Kremlin-funded television network RT said today (17 October) that Britain’s NatWest bank is closing all of its accounts in a unilateral decision.
“They have closed our accounts in Britain. All the accounts,” wrote RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan on Twitter.
She said the channel had been told the decision “cannot be reviewed”, adding: “Long live freedom of speech.”
RT later published on its website a letter from NatWest bank dated 12 October saying it has reviewed its banking arrangements with the broadcaster and “reached the conclusion that we will no longer provide these facilities”.
The letter from NatWest, owned by Royal Bank of Scotland, does not give any reason for this decision, which it says is “final” and not open to any discussion.
The bank says it will close RT’s accounts by 12 December.
RT reported on its channel that the letter was sent to it’s London office and that RT has been with NatWest for more than 10 years, calling the letter “very vague, very British”.
Simonyan told the RBK business news site that she had “no idea” of the reason for the closure of the accounts, but suggested it could be linked to the fact that “we are expecting new British and US sanctions against Russia”.
“Possibly it’s linked to this,” Simonyan said.
She told Rossiya-24 state television that “there can be no reason, we have absolutely transparent work, absolutely transparent financing”.
She said the decision included some personal accounts of senior staff working in Britain.
RT, formerly known as Russia Today, has the slogan “Question more” and was set up to present news from the perspective of the Kremlin, and has been criticised as a slavish propaganda tool for President Vladimir Putin.
A European Commission official has said that Russian propaganda was now powerful in all EU member states – but in some of them Moscow barely needed to make the effort, as local politicians were delivering its messages.
Ties between Russia and the UK are at their lowest ebb since the Cold War over the crisis in Ukraine and Moscow’s bombing campaign in Syria.
There was no immediate indication that this decision was linked to the British authorities.
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova tied the bank decision to Brexit, writing on Facebook: “It looks like when leaving the European Union, London left in Europe all its obligations on freedom of speech.”
The foreign-language network that is primarily aimed at audiences in Europe and the United States broadcasts 24-hours a day in English, Arabic and Spanish.
It has a British outlet called RT UK that broadcasts from London.
A Latvian official last year blamed London, as in his words the majority of Russian channels broadcasting for Latvia were registered in the UK and in Sweden, and questioned whether it was normal that a third country channel would target one EU country’s market and could be registered and regulated in another.
The bank decision came as ongoing legal action involving claims against Moscow from shareholders of defunct oil firm Yukos founded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky has led to freezes of Russian assets abroad including those of state media.
A stake in broadcaster Euronews held by Russian state media giant VGTRK has been frozen due to claims against Moscow from shareholders of defunct oil firm Yukos, the media holding said on Thursday (30 October).