State-funded Russian broadcaster RT complained on Monday that NatWest had withdrawn its banking services in Britain without explanation, questioning how the move squared with the right to freedom of speech.
RT published NatWest’s letter on its web site, saying that the bank, which is part of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group, had reached the decision after “careful consideration” and that the determination was final.
NatWest said in the letter it was not prepared to discuss the matter further, while a spokeswoman for RBS, which owns NatWest, declined to comment on Monday.
The move is likely to make it harder for RT, which often features guests who criticise the West while presenting the Kremlin’s point of view, to operate in Britain.
Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of RT, reacted sarcastically on social media, writing “Long live freedom of speech!”, while Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said it looked like Britain had abandoned its commitment to freedom of speech.
Simonyan said she did not know what was behind the decision, but told the RBK news portal that one theory was that it was part of a new British sanctions package against Russia.
Relations between Moscow and London are strained by differences over Syria and Ukraine, and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson last week angered Russia with a call for people to protest outside the Russian embassy over Russia’s air strikes on the Syrian city of Aleppo.
British broadcast regulator Ofcom has ruled against RT in the past over what it said were a series of biased or misleading programmes on Syria and Ukraine. It said the content flouted Britain’s broadcasting code.
The Russian government accused Barclays of censorship last year after the British bank accounts of state news agency Rossiya Segodnya were shut. The agency’s head, Dmitry Kiselyov, is on an EU sanctions list related to Russia’s actions in Ukraine.