Number of bitcoin whales spikes as sanctions on Russia bite

The number of blockchain wallet addresses with hordes of more than 1,000 bitcoin — around $43 million — surged on Monday as Western nations stepped up sanctions on Russia’s government and wealthy elite.

The figure increased by 7% to a total of 2,226 on February 28, according to data tracked by analytics site Coin Metrics. It has not been that high since June 2021.

The number of addresses with more than 100 bitcoin stored has also risen, albeit more modestly, with a 1.3% bump taking the total to 15,953, per Coin Metrics.

The Block Research’s own data also shows small but sharp increases in the number of addresses with bitcoin balances worth more than $1,000, $10,000, $100,000, $1 million and $10 million (see chart below). But based on the data, it is the very largest wallets that are proliferating at the fastest rate.

It’s not clear exactly what is behind the spike. Julian Hosp, CEO of Cake DeFi, tweeted it may be a sign that “a group of people with deep pockets suddenly have strong interests to get into bitcoin” or it could be due to a “rebalancing of exchanges or custodial services,” which he described as a non-event. 

Other Twitter users have speculated that an influx of money from wealthy Russians, concerned about the impact of sanctions on their fortunes, may be to blame.

Those sanctions — enforced after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 — have already taken a dramatic toll on the country, with the rouble hitting record lows yesterday and fears of a bank run gripping citizens.

The price of bitcoin, meanwhile, surged 15% overnight — briefly topping $44,000.