(Adds RBS statement)
By Andrew Osborn
MOSCOW Oct 17 Russia accused Britain of
political censorship on Monday after a British state-owned bank
withdrew its services from Kremlin-backed Russian broadcaster
RT said NatWest, owned by Royal Bank of Scotland Group
(RBS), which is majority-controlled by the British government,
had not explained why it was withdrawing its banking services in
Britain and accused the bank of attacking freedom of speech.
In a letter published on RT's web site, NatWest said it had
decided to withdraw its services after "careful consideration".
It did not offer an explanation for what it said was a final
ruling, but said it would cancel RT's services from Dec. 12.
In a statement later, RBS said: "These decisions are
not taken lightly. We are reviewing the situation and are
contacting the customer to discuss this further. The bank
accounts remain open and are still operative."
Western critics dismiss RT, whose British arm produces
UK-specific content, as a Kremlin mouthpiece designed to sow
disinformation. The channel, previously known as Russia Today,
says it offers a refreshing Russian-slanted alternative take on
global events to mainstream Western media.
NatWest's decision is likely to inject further tension into
relations between Moscow and London, already strained over Syria
and Ukraine, and make it harder for RT to operate in Britain,
something the channel said it would continue doing regardless.
"The situation will cause some insurmountable obstacles for
the normal functioning of the channel in Britain," the Russian
Foreign Ministry said in a statement, adding it was deeply
concerned and would raise the matter with British authorities.
"This gives rise to the thought that the bank has taken the
decision in agreement with official London to get rid of a news
resource that is inconvenient for the official narrative but
popular among the British public."
RT, which counts President Vladimir Putin among its
supporters and relies on Russian state funds, said the bank's
decision was consistent with "countless measures" taken in
Britain and elsewhere in Europe to try to impede its work.
'A MATTER FOR THE BANK'
A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Theresa May distanced the
British government from the row, saying it was up to NatWest who
it offered services to based on its own appetite for risk.
Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of RT, reacted
sarcastically to the move on social media, writing "Long live
freedom of speech!".
British broadcast regulator Ofcom has ruled against RT in
the past, saying programmes on Syria and Ukraine were misleading
and flouted Britain's broadcasting code. RT has called those
A similar row erupted last year when the Russian government
accused Barclays of censorship after the British bank
accounts of state news agency Rossiya Segodnya were shut. The
agency's head, Dmitry Kiselyov, is on a European Union sanctions
list related to Russia's actions in Ukraine.
(Additional reporting by Katya Golubkova in Moscow and Andrew
MacAskill, Elizabeth Piper and Kylie MacLellan in London;
Editing by Catherine Evans and Giles Elgood)