Wed, 19 Oct 2016 12:55 UTC
The crackdown on RT has been a rapidly evolving story, and I do not know the whole truth of it. However what is clear is that it is a tale of arrogance and stupidity on the part of a Western establishment that has lost its nerve.
First there were reports that RT's bank accounts in Britain had been frozen. Then RT released a letter from its British bank - NatWest, which is 70% owned by the British government - saying that its bank accounts were being closed. No reason was given and the letter said that the decision was final and was not subject to review.
RT complained that it had been given no notice and that the letter had come as a total surprise out of the blue.
A storm of criticism then followed and significantly not just from Russia, with many British individuals and organisations complaining about an attack on free speech.
The British government avoided comment, the Treasury denied involvement, and amid rumours that the Russians were threatening to freeze the BBC's accounts in Russia and to bring complaints to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and to other multinational institutions about an attack on free speech, with some talk of a possible challenge to the European Court of Human Rights, NatWest was left throughout the day hanging out to dry.
Later, after markets closed, NatWest put out a statement saying that the decision would be reviewed after all, and that RT's accounts with NatWest were still open and operating, and that it was in talks with RT about their future.
There have been unconfirmed reports that the closure of RT's accounts has now been put back to December, and that no final decision to close the accounts has been made. The London Times is talking about a British climbdown.
Simultaneously, on the same day, it became known that the Ecuadorian authorities are denying Julian Assange internet access.
What is happening and are these two events connected as many people think?
The first thing to dispose of is the claim of some people in Britain (eg. Dominic Lawson in The Times) who are trying to defend the British actions against RT by saying they are not an attack on free speech because NatWest's decision was supposedly a purely a commercial decision, made solely by the bank, with politics playing no part in it.
This claim is silly. This was a decision made out of the blue with no warning and no reason given. Given how controversial it was, if there had been some genuine commercial reason for it the bank would have told RT about it. Given the storm of controversy which followed throughout the day, if NatWest had acted for purely commercial reasons it would have put out a statement saying so.
This would certainly have been the case if the reason for the decision was the one suggested by Dominic Lawson: that RT is about to be sanctioned. Besides saying this begs the question who told NatWest RT was going to be sanctioned? As it happens there is no evidence RT is going to be sanctioned, and a meeting of the European Council which took place on Monday ended with no announcement of further sanctions whether against RT or against anyone or anything else connected to Russia.
The fact that the whole day went by without NatWest publicly saying any of these things should put the claim that this was a purely commercial decision to rest. Frankly I doubt many of the people who make it really believe it.
It is no secret the British authorities have been angry and worried about RT for a long time.
Supposedly the previous Prime Minister, David Cameron, even convened a special meeting to discuss the channel, where he expressed his frustration on being given legal advice that were no grounds to act against it.
It is also no secret that this anger is shared by other Western governments, including the US government. US Secretary of State Kerry after all has famously called the channel a "propaganda bullhorn".
It is also no secret that RT is the subject of a relentless and highly vituperative campaign against it by the Western media, including especially the media in Britain.
That RT should therefore have come under this sort of attack is hardly a surprise. Why however did it happen now?
Here I am going to align myself with Adam Garrie and with those who think that it is no coincidence that this attack came on the same day as Julian Assange was denied internet access. Moreover this clearly points to the US Presidential election, and the roles Julian Assange, Wikileaks and Russia, are taking or are supposed to be taking in the election, being the reason for the attack.
Hillary Clinton's campaign has been hit by a series of leaks of emails published by Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Hillary Clinton, her campaign, the Western media, and US intelligence, are all blaming Russia for these leaks, and are saying that it is Russia that is providing the hacked and stolen emails to Assange and Wikileaks. The implication is that Assange and Wikileaks, whether consciously or not, are Russian agents.
I have said previously why I personally doubt this is so, and I have explained why the statement US intelligence has published blaming Russia cannot be taken as proof of this.
The US nonetheless publicly insists it is the case, and it has been talking openly of taking retaliatory action against Russia because of the leaks. The cutting off of Assange from the internet and the action against RT look to me like precisely the sort of retaliatory action the US has been talking about.
To be precise they look to me like an attempt to plug the leaks by simultaneously acting against the person who is producing the leaks and the operation in Britain - the country where Assange is located and where Wikileaks is mainly based - of the Russian television channel the US believes Russia is using to disseminate news of the leaks
The coincidence of the simultaneous actions against Assange and RT is just too strong to leave me personally in any doubt that the two events are connected.
Presumably Ecuador was warned that Assange by meddling in the US election is abusing his asylum status, and that unless Ecuador takes steps to silence him it will itself be the target of US retaliatory action. Ecuador, a small country with a fragile economy which uses the US dollar as its currency, had no option but to comply.
As for RT, legal attempts to close the channel having failed, an attempt was made to close down its British operation by denying it banking services.
The latest news from Britain suggests that the action against RT has miscarried. The British authorities seem to have underestimated the strength of the Russian reaction and the unpopularity of the action taken against RT in Britain.
I should say that I have not discussed what has happened with anyone I know at RT - including with Peter Lavelle who writes for The Duran - and I have no inside knowledge of what has happened or of what is going to happen next. However I here express my confidence that RT's British operation will continue, and that this attempt to close it down will fail.
I also believe the attempt to plug the leaks by denying Assange internet access will also fail. I have met some of the people who work for Assange and Wikileaks, though I have never met with or had any contact with Assange himself.
I have had no contact over the last few days with any of these people, and I have not discussed recent events with them, and I do not know what they are going to do. However they have struck me as extremely determined and resourceful, and I have no doubt they will find a way round. I therefore have no doubt the leaks will continue.
Which brings me to what stands out most for me from this affair, which is its sheer stupidity.
Since I have no doubt the leaks will continue, I cannot see the point of this whole exercise, which can only make the Western authorities look simultaneously overbearing and ineffective.
More to the point, though I have no idea what any of the leaked emails Assange and Wikileaks may be about to publish contain, I strongly doubt they will have any negative impact on Hillary Clinton's campaign.
In my opinion the US public decided long ago that Hillary Clinton is someone they don't like and who is not to be trusted, which is why she has struggled to 'seal the deal' with them in the election.
Nothing in the emails is going to make the US public think any the worse of Hillary Clinton than they already do. The veteran and highly professional spin doctors who work for Hillary Clinton's campaign - with the unstinting help of US intelligence and of the Western media - have anyway managed to divert the whole story from a discussion of the content of the emails to a discussion of their alleged theft and leak by Russia. Successfully plugging the leak of the emails - even if that were possible - therefore achieves nothing.
Whilst there was nothing to be gained by going after Assange, by doing so the US and the British have not only managed to make themselves look thuggish and vindictive, but the US has also given the impression that it and Hillary Clinton are afraid of him and of whatever it is he is going to leak. That in turn creates the impression that they really do have something to hide and be afraid of, when on any cool and objective assessment they don't.
As for RT, not only has the channel and its British staff been treated with a callous and unconscionable brutality - with many of its workers made cruelly frightened for their next pay cheque - but this banana republic style behaviour, which would be rightly and roundly condemned if it happened anywhere else, betrays an astonishing loss of nerve on the part of the Western establishment.
The deluge of comments which have flooded the media threads in response to the attack on RT show that many of its viewers in Britain and elsewhere reject the label of "propaganda bullhorn" the West is trying to impose on it, and that they have come instead to value RT's wide international news coverage and its critical point of view.
Going after RT not only reeks of fear - not just of the channel but of the news it is broadcasting - but calling it a propaganda channel insults the millions of people in the West, including in Britain, who regularly watch the channel by implying that they are too stupid to realise the fact. Moreover going after RT in this tawdry way - indirectly through its bank accounts whilst hiding behind NatWest - is an implicit admission that there are no actual grounds to close it, and that the claim that it is a propaganda channel not entitled to a broadcasting license is untrue and a sham.
In truth it is astonishing that the political, security and media establishment of the West is today so frightened of a single television channel, especially a Russian one.
Not so long ago such a thing would have been considered inconceivable. During the Cold War the idea that the mighty Western media and the Western establishment would be running scared of a single Russian television channel would have been thought ridiculous.
That more than anything else shows the extent to which the West is losing the plot, and how the actual balance of power in the world, what some old fashioned Russians still like to refer to - far more accurately - as "the correlation of forces", is changing and has now shifted decisively against the West.
Comment: See also: Royal Bank of Scotland Group blocks RT's UK bank accounts