LONDON — Russia’s state-run English-language news channel RT has been informed its U.K. bank accounts are to be shut down. National Westminster Bank, known as NatWest, sent the broadcaster, formerly known as Russia Today, a letter dated Oct. 12 to its London office informing RT that the bank had “recently undertaken a review of your banking arrangements with us and reached the conclusion that we will no longer provide these facilities.” The letter made clear that the decision was irreversible and that the bank would not discuss it further.
The letter stated that as a result RT would “need to make alternative banking arrangements outside of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group,” which owns NatWest. It went on to inform the Russian broadcaster that its card facility would need to be repaid in full before being withdrawn on Nov. 14 and that all its accounts would be closed on Dec. 12 this year.
The decision was made public by RT’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan in a local-language tweet on Monday morning, saying: “They’ve closed our accounts in Britain. All our accounts. ‘The decision is not subject to review.’ Praise be to freedom of speech!”
RT ran the story, including the full letter from NatWest, quoting Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova as saying that the U.K., in leaving the E.U., seemed to have left freedom of speech obligations behind. The U.K.’s Guardian newspaper suggested the U.K. foreign office appeared to have been aware of the move and immediately referred the newspaper’s inquiries to the U.K. Treasury. However the Guardian said it was “unclear” if the U.K. government had sanctioned the decision.
A statement from RT’s press office said that despite the decision RT U.K. would continue to operate uninterrupted. “This decision is incomprehensible, and without warning,” read the statement from RT’s press office. “It is however, not at odds with the countless measures that have been undertaken in the U.K. and Europe over the last few years to ostracize, shout down, or downright impede the work of RT.”
The news comes on the heels of Sunday’s joint press conference of U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in London in which they described the actions of Russia and the Assad regime in Syria and the bombing of civilians in the Syrian city of Aleppo as “crimes against humanity taking place on a daily basis.”
The U.K.’s Independent newspaper reported that Simonyan had told Russia’s business newspaper RBK the move may “hypothetically have something to do with new British and American sanctions against Russia. It may not.” She said RT’s legal department was now dealing with the issue.
The BBC reported Simonyan as telling local state media: “They haven’t explained the reasons and I think they can’t explain them because there can’t be any reasons. We have an absolutely transparent operation [in the U.K.], absolutely transparent funding. They have failed to defeat us by simply vilifying us so they decided to try the banking flank.”
RT was sanctioned by Ofcom, the U.K.’s broadcasting regulator, in September last year for four breaches of the broadcasting code relating to accuracy and impartiality in its coverage of the wars in Ukraine and Syria.