British government denies role in NatWest closing bank accounts of Moscows main propaganda tool in English-speaking world
Russia has angrily accused Britain of trampling on freedom of speech after NatWest said it was closing down the bank accounts of the Kremlin TV channel Russia Today (RT).
Russian MPs, the foreign ministry and human rights officials all condemned the move, and said the UK government was guilty of violating press freedom and of double standards. Long live freedom of speech!, RTs editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan, tweeted sarcastically.
Simonyan said she had received a letter out of the blue from NatWest saying that it was pulling the plug on the broadcasters accounts from mid-December.
We have recently undertaken a review of your banking arrangements with us and reached the conclusion that we will no longer provide these facilities, it said. The decision was final, the letter added.
But after several hours of confusion the Treasury said it had nothing to do with NatWests move. Sources said the decision to deny RT banking services was made independently by NatWest, and apparently without any official consultation.
This isnt something that has come out of the Treasury, one source insisted. The UK government had not introduced any fresh sanctions or obligations against Russia since February 2015, the source said.
In recent years it is understood that the banks compliance department has frequently shut down accounts of other Russian customers, often without warning.
Russian officials, however, were quick to denounce the move against RT as a murky British plot. They pointed out that NatWest a part of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group is mostly state-owned.
It seems that freedom of speech is completely lost in Albions Russophobic fog, tweeted Konstantin Dolgov, Russias foreign ministry commissioner for human rights.
In a statement issued after more than six hours of deliberation NatWest said these 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.
The banking shutdown casts doubt on the ability of the Kremlin-backed news channel to carry on broadcasting, although RT said on Monday it would continue operating. The story received blanket coverage from Russian state media.
The US and Britain said on Sunday that they were considering fresh measures and possible further sanctions against Moscow in protest at Russias continuing bombardment of civilians in eastern Aleppo, Syria.
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