NatWest bank, part of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group, informed that it intends to stop servicing RT UK and that the decision was not subject to discussion. Commenting on the accounts closure on Tuesday, Sergey Lavrov insisted that the decision had not been taken by the bank independently.
"It's as clear as day that this decision was not made by the bank. And not any other bank - banks don't make such decisions on their own," he said. "I believe an old saying is appropriate here: don't treat others the way you don't wish to be treated yourself."
The minister didn't elaborate on possible retaliation for RT accounts closure. The Russian Foreign Ministry earlier described as "squeezing alternative voices out of UK media space" by the UK government and said it was a violation of British commitments to preserve press freedoms under the Helsinki Accord of 1975.
The British government has denied any involvement in the situation, insisting that NatWest made the decision independently from its state owner.
"I noted the decision of the NatWest bank to withdraw support for RT, that was a wholly independently taken decision," Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told the House of Commons on Tuesday.
The bank has since backtracked on its 'non-negotiable' position, saying in a statement that it was "reviewing the situation"and "contacting the customer to discuss this further." According to RT's Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan, no arrangement has been set for such talks yet.
The Times claimed that Russia had threatened to close the accounts of the BBC in Russia and to report the case to the OSCE, an organization that grew from the Helsinki Accord. The British newspaper didn't cite any sources, but claimed that RBS "withdrew its punitive action" after the threats. RBS is another bank owned by the RBS Group, which apparently the Times meant to name as the decision-maker.
RT has received numerous messages of support after disclosing its banking troubles on Monday coming both from public figures and devoted viewers.
"This is an attempt to squeeze out alternative voices. All the big domestic UK channels carry government policy uncritically," Steve Hedley, Senior Assistant General Secretary of RMT, the UK's biggest specialized transport union, told RT on-air. "They are attempting to put a warning shot across the bow of not just RT, but any news organizations with a different point of view."
Comment: More from Hedley:
We are getting to a state of affairs where everything in the country is monitored, and if it doesn't meet with official approval, it is banned, and has its source of funding cut off. This is a move toward a totalitarian state," Hedley, Senior Assistant General Secretary of RMT, the UK's biggest specialist transport union, told RT during a live interview from London. "The strong stance that RT has taken over this is good, and will prevent further pressure, on itself and other organizations."
"The bank hasn't come to this decision on its own. It's part of a campaign to demonize Russia. If you look currently - in the UK and the US - everything, down to any emails being hacked, is being blamed on Russia," said Hedley, agreeing with Lavrov. "It is an outrageous attack on free speech - can you imagine the furor if a Russian bank owned by the government had done this to the BBC bureau in Russia? There would be an international outcry about it."
Hedley said the move was not just aimed at RT, but other dissenting and alternative voices, such as Al-Jazeera and Press TV. "They are trying to create this climate, and to stop an alternative voice from being heard. All the big domestic UK channels carry government policy uncritically," said Hedley. ...
Hedley, whose union has been engaged in a series of high-profile disputes over the working conditions of London Tube workers over the past year, also praised said that RT's coverage of "unions and working-class organizations" was more open-minded than that of domestic media.
"When we - as a union - come into the RT studio, we are asked tough questions, but we are actually allowed time to answer those questions, and explain our position so that people can make up their own mind," Hedley said.
A NatWest customer told RT he had closed his account with the bank after a decade of being its customer in protest at the way it had treated the news channel, and dozens more said they planned to do so in article comments.