UK bank closes 'Kremlin mouthpiece' RT's accounts

UK bank closes 'Kremlin mouthpiece' RT's accounts
Russian broadcaster RT said that UK bank NatWest has withdrawn its services 'without explanation', as Moscow faces mounting condemnation - and sanctions - over its role in Syria
3 min read
18 October, 2016
NatWest has withdrawn its services for state-run Russian broadcaster RT [Getty]

UK bank Natwest has frozen the account of state-run Russian news channel RT.

NatWest's decision to withdraw its services to RT - due to come into force in December - has drawn condemnation from Moscow, but applause from Syrian activists due to the pro-Kremlin editorial stance of the broadcaster.

RT's editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan called the move "an attack on freedom of speech" on her Twitter page.

"Our accounts in Britain have been blocked. All of them. 'Decision not to be discussed'. Hail to freedom of speech!" Simonyan said in a tweet posted in Russian.

Natwest's letter to RT's London office was posted on its website.

RT reported the letter said Natwest will no longer have the broadcaster among its clients and that the bank provided no explanation for the decision.

"We have recently undertaken a review of your banking arrangements with us and reached the conclusion that we will no longer provide these facilities," the letter read.

On Facebook, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: "Britain on its way out of the EU abandoned all its commitments to protect the freedom of speech."

The UK government is the majority shareholder in the Royal Bank of Scotland group, which owns Natwest.

However the Treasury office would not comment on the bank's decision and there was no evidence of Westminster involvement.

State-funded RT - or Russia Today as it was known before rebranding in 2009 - broadcasts a pro-Kremlin interpretation of world events.

This includes Syria, where the Russian air force has been bombarded densely packed residential areas of Aleppo, controlled by the opposition. The bombing by Russian war planes have destroyed hospitals, schools, and killed hundreds of civilians, with scant coverage from RT.

The broadcaster has previously been sanctioned by UK broadcasting watchdog Ofcom for a series of misleading or biased programmes on the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.

One programme breached the broadcasting code after alleging the BBC staged a chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime in Syria.

The move comes as UK relations with the Kremlin become increasingly fraught as diplomatic attempts to broker a ceasefire in Syria continue to fail with Russia blamed for scuppering plans to help the Syrian regime continue military advances.

On Sunday, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and US Secretary of State John Kerry threatened to impose economic sanctions on Russia and Syria over the devastating siege of Aleppo.

And last week Johnson called for protests outside the Russian embassy in London.

"If Russia continues in its current path then I think that great country is in danger of becoming a pariah nation," Johnson told parliament.

Natwest said in a statement on Monday that such decisions "are not taken lightly". It added: "We are reviewing the situation and are contacting the customer to discuss this further. The bank accounts remain open and are still operative."