Russia Vows Retribution After Kremlin TV’s U.K. Bank Freeze

Updated on
  • State-owned RBS reviewing cut-off of RT access to U.K. funds
  • Russian Foreign Ministry says it’s now seeking U.K. assurances

The Kremlin buildings sit on Red Square in Moscow.

Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

Russia threatened reprisals as it sought to reverse a decision to block state-run broadcaster RT’s access to its British banking facilities, adding another element of conflict to the nation’s worst standoff with Western democracies since the Cold War.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday that Russia is in contact with the U.K. about the issue, a day after she warned that the authorities in Moscow will respond “in a practical manner” to the move.

Sergei Lavrov

Photographer: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images

NatWest, part of the state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, had told RT that the banking facilities of the TV station’s U.K. production company will be terminated, without explanation or right to appeal, according to the Moscow-based broadcaster. The lender backtracked on Tuesday , informing RT in an e-mail that it is reviewing the matter, according to the channel.

Russia’s relationship with the U.S. and its allies has sunk back into the deep freeze it was in at the peak of the crisis over Ukraine in 2014. The episode with RT is adding to strains after the U.S., Britain’s main ally, accused Russia of meddling with its presidential elections through hacking and releasing e-mails. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, favored by the polls with less than three weeks before the ballot, has blamed President Vladimir Putin for leaks that have hit her campaign.

Tensions are also mounting over Syria, with the U.S., the U.K. and Germany weighing sanctions against Russia for its bombing of Aleppo, where 250,000 people remain trapped.

RT has been accused of acting as the Kremlin’s mouthpiece in its coverage of conflicts that have pitted Russia against the West.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday that the bank didn’t make the decision independently and that the U.K. should expect similar treatment. “They should recall a wise old saying that goes something like this: ‘do as you would be done by,’” he said.

Whose Bidding?

RBS decided to cancel the banking facilities of RT’s U.K. service provider due to concerns over its compliance with so-called know-your-customer rules and and sanctions-related issues, a person familiar with the matter said. The move is now being reviewed by Chief Executive Officer Ross McEwan. 

In an e-mailed response, Anna Belkina, RT’s head of communications said: “Russia Today TV UK Ltd has never received any communication from either NatWest or RBS that could substantiate such a claim, and all its operations in the U.K. and elsewhere have always complied with the country’s laws.”

While the bank may still remove it as a client, there’s a possibility the decision will be annulled, said the person, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter. The U.K. Treasury is aware that the lender is considering reversing its decision, according to an official with knowledge of the proceedings, who reiterated that there was no directive from the government toward the bank regarding RT.

RBS said by e-mail that the RT account remains open as it reviews the situation. The U.K. Foreign Office declined to make any statement, saying the RT complaint is a matter for the Treasury, which also declined to comment.

A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Theresa May, Helen Bower, said the bank didn’t consult with the government over its decision. 

“More broadly, do we want to make sure that misinformation isn’t being spread or put forward?” she said. “Of course we do.”