Sunday

25th Feb 2018

Feature

British bank spotlights Russian propaganda

  • Simonyan with Russian leader Vladimir Putin - her claim that NatWest had closed all Russia Today's accounts was denied by the bank (Photo: kremlin.ru)

A British bank’s decision to stop working with suppliers of a Kremlin media firm has put the spotlight on Russian propaganda in Europe.

NatWest bank said in a letter on 12 October to a UK-based supplier of services to Russia Today that it would stop its credit line in November and close its bank accounts in December.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Zakharova - claim that British government tried to gag Russia Today not substantiated (Photo: mid.ru)

Russia Today is a Kremlin-funded TV broadcaster and website.

It says it gives an alternative view on world affairs, but even press freedom NGOs, such as the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, call it a “propaganda” outlet.

Recent Russia Today reports include that the Dutch-led inquiry into the MH17 flight disaster, which said Russia supplied the rocket that hit down the plane, was based on fabricated evidence.

It has said that British broadcaster the BBC staged a false-flag chemical attack in Syria.

It has also said that Western corporations implanted microchips in staff to make them submissive and that US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had links to a secret cult called the Illuminati.

Not quite true

The Russian firm put its own spin on NatWest’s decision on Monday.

Its editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan, said on Twitter that NatWest had “closed all our” accounts in Britain.

She posted an image of the bank’s letter, but blurred out whom it was addressed to.

Russia Today and the Russian foreign ministry also said that British authorities had pressured NatWest to gag Russian media for political reasons.

“As it leaves the EU, London has decided to leave behind all its obligations towards freedom of speech”, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said.

The NatWest letter that Simonyan posted did not back her claims, however.

The letter said the bank accounts were not frozen, but remained open until December. The Royal Bank of Scotland group, NatWest’s owner, repeated on Monday that the accounts "remain open and are still operative”.

The accounts also did not belong to Russia Today, but to a UK-based firm that supplied Russia Today.

The firm might have been named in the blurred-out part of Simonyan’s Twitter image, but NatWest has declined to say who it was or to give any reason for its decision.

Risk appetite

The British government denied involvement in the events.

“It's a matter for the bank, and it's for them to decide who they offer services to based on their own risk appetite”, the office of British prime minister Theresa May said.

Jonathan Eyal, a Russia specialist at Rusi, a British think tank, told EUobserver that NatWest might have done it “as part of a normal probity operation” on its client.

He said some Western banks were getting rid of clients with “complicated” financial structures because EU and US regulators were issuing more anti-money laundering fines.

A British source with knowledge of NatWest’s operations also told this website the Russia Today supplier may simply have looked a bit dodgy.

"NatWest has been closing … Russian accounts over the years for fear of money laundering. This is not some big freedom of speech issue, but rather just cautious compliance officers”, the source said.

Summit debate

The media dispute comes ahead of an EU summit on Thursday and Friday in Brussels.

Draft summit conclusions, seen by EUobserver, said leaders would hold “a strategic policy debate on relations with Russia”.

An EU source said the talks would cover issues such as “Russian influence operations in the Western Balkans, hybrid warfare, including cyberattacks, and disinformation”.

Hybrid warfare refers to covert operations, including information or economic warfare, designed to destabilise an adversary.

The summit will not decide on counter-measures or on future Russia sanctions, the source said.

EU leaders, last year, created a cell in the EU foreign service, called EU East Stratcom, to debunk Russian disinformation.

It has 11 staff and no fixed budget, but the European Parliament has proposed to allocate it €800,000 in 2017 and to increase personnel to 16 in ideas that await full EU approval.

Free speech

With Simonyan and Zakharova crying out on free speech, Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based NGO that promotes media pluralism, reserved judgment on the NatWest case.

Johann Bihr, the NGO’s spokesman, told EUobserver on Tuesday that “political reasons cannot be excluded” for the bank's decision, but the facts of the matter are “too blurry” to comment.

He said the NGO normally does not comment on media content, but he said Russia Today’s “methods, and the reporting which is often broadcast on Russia Today, are part of propaganda made in the Kremlin”.

Jerzy Pomianowski, the head of an EU-funded foundation in Brussels, the European Endowment for Democracy (EED), told EUobserver that EU regulators, whether financial or media regulators, were right to take a hard line with firms that broke the rules.

He said every EU state had media codes and that broadcasters who broke them should be “brought to justice” in order to protect the rule of law in Europe.

Reacting to Russia’s complaint on free speech, Pomianowski noted that EU media firms cannot get on TV in Russia due to “political pressure” to block independent content.

EU shames Russia on Aleppo 'massacre'

The EU has named Russia as being partly responsible for a “massacre” of “historic” proportions in Syria, but ruled out extra sanctions or military force.

EU parliament hosts Russian propaganda circus

Russian TV, blacklisted officials, and lobbyists in the EU parliament on Wednesday hurled accusations at a deceased Russian lawyer and attack EU institutions.

Opinion

A Normandy summit of ulterior motives

Today’s summit between the German, French, Russian and Ukrainian leaders will not settle the conflict in eastern Ukraine. It could, however, shape the EU response to the broader Russia challenge.

EU myth-busters set for budget upgrade

One year after its launch, East Stratcom, the EU’s “tiny” counter-propaganda cell, has created a 20,000-strong following and could get a €1 million budget.

Opinion

EU-Morocco fishing deal casts doubt on EU future foreign policy

Not extending the EU fisheries deal with Morocco to fish off the disputed coast of Western Sahara could deprive the Sahrawi people of much-needed income - and throw into question future EU foreign policy in the name of human rights.

EU warns Turkey over 'threat' to Cyprus

The European Commission called on Ankara to refrain from doing "damage to good neighbourly relations", after Turkish vessels stop a rig from reaching a gas drilling zone.

News in Brief

  1. EU calls for immediate ceasefire in Syria
  2. UK's post-Brexit vision is 'pure illusion', Tusk says
  3. EU leaders express solidarity with Cyprus in Turkey drill row
  4. EU to double funding for Sahel forces
  5. EU parliament president: 'The immigration problem is Africa'
  6. May to unveil EU departure strategy next week
  7. Pregnant workers may be dismissed, EU court rules
  8. Romanian minister demands anti-corruption prosecutor fired

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA EuropeAnkara Ban on LGBTI Events Continues as Turkish Courts Reject NGO Appeals
  2. Aid & Trade LondonJoin Thousands of Stakeholders of the Global Aid Industry at Aid & Trade London
  3. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.European Free Alliance Joins MHRMI to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism Year to Promote Business and Mutual Ties
  5. European Jewish CongressAt “An End to Antisemitism!” Conference, Dr. Kantor Calls for Ambitious Solutions
  6. UNESDAA Year Ago UNESDA Members Pledged to Reduce Added Sugars in Soft Drinks by 10%
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  8. CESICESI@Noon on ‘Digitalisation & Future of Work: Social Protection For All?’ - March 7
  9. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  11. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  12. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.Suing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name

Latest News

  1. EU agrees budget to focus on defence, security and migration
  2. EU leaders nix transnational lists, cool on 'Spitzenkandidat'
  3. Regions chief: calls for smaller EU budget are 'impossible'
  4. Election fever picks up This WEEK
  5. EU-Morocco fishing deal casts doubt on EU future foreign policy
  6. EU leaders put 'Spitzenkandidat' on summit menu
  7. European far-right political party risks collapse
  8. The key budget issues on EU leaders' table

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Swedish EnterprisesHarnessing Globalization- at What Cost? Keynote Speaker Commissioner Malmström
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaSave The Date 28/02: “Nagorno-Karabakh & the EU: 1988-2018”
  3. European Heart NetworkSmart CAP is Triple Win for Economy, Environment and Health
  4. European Free AlllianceEFA Joined the Protest in Aiacciu to Solicit a Dialogue After the Elections
  5. EPSUDrinking Water Directive Step Forward but Human Right to Water Not Recognized
  6. European Gaming & Betting AssociationGambling Operators File Data Protection Complaint Against Payment Block in Norway
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Expresses Deep Concern Over Proposed Holocaust Law in Poland
  8. CECEConstruction Industry Gets Together to Discuss the Digital Revolution @ the EU Industry Days
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Relations in the New Era
  10. European Free AlllianceEnd Discrimination of European Minorities - Sign the Minority Safepack Initiative
  11. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Diversity Shouldn’t Be Only a Slogan” Lorant Vincze (Fuen) Warns European Commission
  12. Dialogue PlatformWhat Can Christians Learn from a Global Islamic Movement?