Russia ‘will retaliate’ against British media after RT’s bank accounts closed
Reuters, Oct 18 2016
Russia’s foreign ministry spox has promised tit-for-tat retaliation against British media after the apparent closure of UK bank accounts linked to Russia’s English-language broadcaster, RT. Maria Zakharova said:
Our stance is straightforward: we will stick up for our own. They will get as good as they give.
RT announced on Monday that NatWest had closed its accounts, publishing a letter from the bank informing the television network that its accounts would be closed on 12 December and that the decision was final. The letter said:
We have recently undertaken a review of your banking arrangements with us and reached the conclusion that we will no longer provide these facilities.
However, Royal Bank of Scotland, which owns NatWest, said on Tuesday that the accounts were still active. It said:
These decisions are not taken lightly. We are reviewing the situation and are contacting the customer to discuss this further. The bank accounts remain open and are still operative.
It is understood that NatWest wrote to the UK company that supplies services to RT, rather than the television network itself. The name of the company, which handles RT’s UK payroll and other services, has not been disclosed. Russian officials and RT’s director Margarita Simonyan have condemned the move as an attack on freedom of speech, although a Treasury official told the Guardian that the decision was taken by NatWest without consultation with the government. Few in Moscow are likely to be swayed by that explanation, however. Zakharova said:
It seems we need to react and show the other side in the mirror so they can see how they are acting; so they find themselves in the same situation. That will work. But it wasn’t our choice.
Zakharova was not immediately available for further comment, and did not specify which British media outlets Russia might target in response. Attention could fall on the BBC, which has a large office in Moscow and also runs a Russian-language service. Russia has often insisted that RT is no different to the BBC, saying both are state-funded. The Russian channel has the specific mission to counter the narrative of the so-called “mainstream media” and often does not even attempt balanced coverage of global events. The channel has breached the UK’s broadcasting code on a number of occasions during the past decade and has been warned by Ofcom that further impartiality violations could result in a fine. The former MP George Galloway, who hosts a show on RT, told the channel on Tuesday that NatWest’s decision was linked to “growing anxiety” in parliament and the “deep state” about the popularity of RT.