It’s been two years since a former managing director of the Moscow Exchange resigned his position in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean region in his native Ukraine.
Now, after years of exploring his options, Roman Sulzhyk has become the latest in a string of senior-level executives around the world to make the jump to the blockchain sector. Not only has Sulzhyk invested in the Ukraine-based blockchain startup Distributed Lab, he’s taken on a leadership role as chairman of its board of directors.
But while entering the blockchain industry has been compared to a religious experience for some, Sulzhyk’s motivation is decidedly more political.
After spending much of his career working for big banks, Sulzhyk joined as the managing director of Moscow Exchange’s futures market in 2015, a year after Russia controversially took over Crimea.
Since then, the Moscow Exchange press office and Sulzhyk himself have both expressed support for one another, even while complexities around the departure persist.
“Unfortunately, the political situation between our two countries at the moment does make it difficult,” Sulzhyk said. “Let’s just say, I’m opposed to the politics of Putin.”
Still, the former chairman of the supervisory board of the National Depository of Ukraine and well-known advocate for transparency in the financial markets sees an opportunity in blockchain that goes beyond his professional history and past roles.
Sulzhyk told CoinDesk:
“It’s a natural evolution of my career. I don’t view this as a sort of setback, I view this as a massive opportunity for me personally to be part of a revolution.”
In this way, Sulzhyk sought to frame his departure as a twist of good fortune, one that triggered his exploration of the right opportunity at the right time.
Sulzhyk said he knew almost nothing about blockchain before leaving the exchange, and as it turns out, that’s exactly when the founders of Distributed Lab started to educate him.
Then, this July, he’d caught up enough on the technology that Distributed Lab invited him to speak at its BIP001 cryptocurrency conference in Odessa, Ukraine, and by September he’d personally backed Distributed Lab with an undisclosed amount of money.
But while Sulzhyk identifies as a co-founder, as well as investor, in Distributed Lab, the startup itself isn’t new to the blockchain space.
Founded in 2014, the company now lists 50 people on its team working to build a wide range of enterprise-grade systems for issuing traditional assets on a blockchain.
“I’m not day-to-day running development,” he said. “I’m more trying to work together with the guys to develop the vision of where the company wants to be in a year from now.”
Among the projects for which Sulzhyk is currently consulting as part of his new work is the National Bank of Ukraine, which has been exploring issuing the nation’s native hryvnia currency on a blockchain since at least November 2016.
And though many details about the project remain behind a non-disclosure agreement, Distributed Lab founder Pavel Kravchenko confirmed to CoinDesk that his company is working with the central bank to explore moving “e-money on a blockchain.”
As for Sulzhyk, he doubled-down on his previously stated skepticism about cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, comparing them to failed incarnations of the U.S. Federal Reserve.
But he further elaborated on the potential value to central banks of future cryptocurrencies that could eventually incorporate “a read-only key for a blockchain,” giving them the ability to monitor transactions “in real-time.”
“Once central banks understand this,” he said, “I think they will start moving in that direction because it gives them better visibility into the financial system.”
So far, the most mature of Distributed Lab’s efforts is TokenD, a framework for helping groups of enterprises digitize assets. Sulzhyk calls the framework an “Oracle-like product for blockchain,” comparing it to the large cloud platform provider that’s also exploring blockchain.
In addition to including a codebase for building systems that convert traditional assets into digital tokens on a blockchain, the TokenD framework consists of a list of best practices and security and quality standards.
One early effort Sulzhyk is exploring on the topic is with the CEO of Ukraine’s national depository, Mindaugas Bakas, in which the standards are being used to overcome legal concerns about issuing assets on a blockchain.
Among the other projects in the works using TokenD is the soon-to-be-announced BullionCoin, registered with the Financial Services Authority in the Isle of Man.
Going forward, Sulzhyk said Distributed Lab is exploring business models other than transaction fees, such as charging per solution or extended support services – and it’s here where he’s perhaps most excited about the company’s path to market.
“This is a fundamental game changer.”