Moscow vows to hit back in row over RT TV channel’s UK bank accounts

Reuters reports: Russia has promised to retaliate against Britain after a British state-owned bank said it was withdrawing its services from Kremlin-backed Russian broadcaster RT.

RT said on Monday that NatWest, owned by Royal Bank of Scotland Group (RBS), had given notice it intended to withdraw its banking services from the channel’s British arm. RT accused the bank of attacking freedom of speech.

RBS responded by saying it was reviewing the situation and would contact RT to discuss the matter, which caused a furor in Russia where the Russian Foreign Ministry said it looked like a politically-motivated move to silence an inconvenient outlet. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Dmitry K. Kiselyov, the head of RT’s parent organization, was placed on the European sanctions list in 2014 over his encouragement of the annexation of Crimea. Barclays, the company’s previous bank in Britain, closed its accounts in July 2015.

In Moscow, the management of RT said on Monday that its lawyers were dealing with the banking situation and that the network would remain in operation.

“We have no idea what this is connected with, because nothing new happened to us, and we received no threats — neither yesterday, nor a day before yesterday, or a month ago,” the RBK news website quoted Ms. Simonyan, the editor in chief, as saying.

Jonathan Eyal, assistant director of Russian and European security studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said that the bank’s action might have reflected concerns over RT’s links to the Kremlin. “Certain questions are being raised over the corporation and its sources of funding,” he said, “and the bank must have been aware that this is not a happy commercial transaction.”

Mr. Eyal noted that some financial institutions had recently faced large fines for handling questionable accounts, and he speculated that NatWest may “prefer the controversy of closing the bank account over dealing with a business that may have tainted money.”

Beyond that, he said, the bank may be following a lead, either directly or indirectly, from the United States, which has been weighing its response to Russian hacking of American computers and servers. The bank’s action could be a kind of “veiled sanction,” he said, aimed at “trying to convey to the propaganda sources that they are increasingly finding their life difficult in the West.” [Continue reading…]

In 2015, following the closure of Kiselyov’s Barclays account, The Independent reported: Mr Kiselyov is a leading TV personality on state-controlled Rossiya 1 television and warned last year, in the wake of the Crimean referendum on 16 March, that Russia could turn the United States into “radioactive dust”.

“Russia is the only country in the world realistically capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash,” Mr Kiselyov said at the time, standing in front of a large screen depicting a mushroom cloud produced by a nuclear explosion.

He added that President Vladimir Putin was a much stronger leader than Barack Obama, pointing to opinion polls on his screen. “Americans themselves consider Putin to be a stronger leader than Obama,” he said. “Why is Obama phoning Putin all the time and talking to him for hours on end?”

Crimea voted 93 per cent in favour of coming under Russian rule in the controversial referendum, while Kiev said it would not recognise the results.

Mr Kiselyov previously caused outrage when he called for tougher anti-gay laws and suggested that homosexuals should be barred from donating organs, blood and sperm because they were not fit. [Continue reading…]

In spite of numerous claims being made that the withdrawal of NatWest banking services amounts to an attack on free speech, the bank’s decision is no such thing. RT has been censured 15 times by Ofcom (Britain’s equivalent of the FCC) for breaching broadcast regulations but it hasn’t been shut down. The Russian network, funded by a government that has very little appetite for free speech, has less interest in defending freedom than it has in exploiting free speech in order to corrupt democracy through the propagation of disinformation and conspiracy theories.

Coincidental with NatWest’s decision, the Express reports: Russia’s VTB Bank has announced it will move its European headquarters out of London in the wake of Brexit.

The state-controlled bank is the first major lender to desert the UK following its historic decision to leave the European Union (EU). [Continue reading…]

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