Russian spokeswoman says closure of English-language broadcaster’s bank accounts ‘reeked of’ BBC
Russia has hinted it will take reprisals against the BBC after National Westminster Bank withdrew its services from Russia’s English-language broadcaster, RT.
Maria Zakharova, the foreign ministry spokeswoman, wrote on social media that the British bank’s decision earlier this week to close RT’s bank accounts “reeked of” the BBC – implying the British state broadcaster may have been pressing for the closure of Russia Today.
On Tuesday, Zakharova told reporters that Moscow would retaliate in kind if necessary, prompting speculation that a British media organisation operating in Russia could encounter problems.
In her post on Friday, Zakharova pointed out that the BBC’s Russian service had recently run what she dismissed as an empty investigation into RT’s UK activities.
“Why did they do this?” she wrote. “So that a nasty taste stayed behind. I wish the BBC Russian service luck. They will need it now, because digging stuff up can be a diverting and unpredictable business.”
Russian diplomatic sources in the UK claimed the attack on RT was part of an attempt to squeeze Russian thinking out of Britain, and said that the action against RT was prompted by the bank, and its owner – a reference to the UK government.
The sources said that four other Russian news agencies have had their accounts closed in London and been prevented from finding other sources of financial support.
The closure of RT’s accounts would challenge the UK’s image as an upholder of free speech, the sources said.
In a previous statement, the Russian embassy in London said: “This openly political decision follows many similar acts of harassment and intimidation against Russian news outlets in UK (others affected include Rossiya Segodnya).
“Russia Today itself has been subjected to a plethora of unsubstantiated Ofcom investigations. This policy amounts to squeezing alternative voices out of UK media space.”
In Moscow, three pro-Kremlin senators in the upper house of parliament have already urged Russian authorities to hit back by closing the BBC’s bank accounts in Russia, the RIA news agency reported on Monday.
RBS Group – parent of NatWest – which is owned by the British state, has said it is reviewing the situation and will contact RT to discuss the matter further.
The move against RT is seen by Russian diplomatic sources as part of a pattern of harassment by British officials, including long-running efforts to make the professional life of the embassy more difficult.
Sources claim the embassy is being reduced to 40 full-time staff owing to British delays in providing visas to its staff, meaning that vacancies cannot be filled.
The same sources also claimed that the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, was behind the demonstration due to take place on Saturday in protest at the bombing of eastern Aleppo by Syrian and Russian war planes.
Celebrities including Carey Mulligan, star of The Great Gatsby and global ambassador for War Child, are due to join hundreds of people expected to rally at the gates of Downing Street on Whitehall. Children will lay a pile of 200 teddy bears, reflecting the number of children who have died during bombing raids in Aleppo since the ceasefire broke down last month.
Protesters will also deliver an open letter urging Theresa May to take robust action to stop the bombs – signed by many of the world’s leading charities and campaigning organisations – to the door of No 10.
The protest comes after Johnson called for demonstrations against the bombing outside the Russian embassy. Rather than appeal to the Russians, the rally is targeted at May and Johnson himself, calling on them to set out clearly the steps the British government will take to protect civilians in Syria.