(London) The British government has asked for a review of the license granted to the Russian public channel in English RT, Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday in the midst of the Russian-Western crisis linked to Ukraine, his defense minister judging that Vladimir Putin had “lost the ball”.
The UK on Tuesday sanctioned five banks and three Russian oligarchs after Moscow recognized the independence of the pro-Russian separatist regions of eastern Ukraine, and said further action would be taken in the face of the possibility “highly likely” of a major invasion reaching Kiev.
Questioned in Parliament on the role of “disinformation” played by RT, Boris Johnson indicated that his Minister of Culture Nadine Dorries had asked the British regulator, OFCOM – British equivalent of the Canadian CRTC – to “re-examine” the license granted to the news channel in English.
“We live in a democracy and in a country that believes in freedom of expression, so it is important to leave this issue to OFCOM, rather than let politicians decide which media to ban as Russia does,” said tempered Boris Johnson.
Questioned by AFP, OFCOM indicated that it would not hesitate to “intervene” if its rules on accuracy or impartiality were violated by the holder of a license.
“Given the seriousness of the crisis in Ukraine, we will give priority consideration to complaints relating to the coverage of this issue by any broadcasting company,” added a spokesperson for the regulator.
At the beginning of February, Germany banned RT on its territory, prompting Moscow to close the office of the German radio-television Deutsche Welle in Moscow.
Moscow has hinted that the BBC could meet the same fate.
“If the United Kingdom carries out its threat to the Russian media, retaliatory measures will not be long in coming,” warned Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
“British journalists can ask their German colleagues what it is all about,” she added, also recalling the expulsion in 2021 of BBC Moscow correspondent Sarah Rainsford.
Boris Johnson also reaffirmed that he was preparing new economic sanctions after those announced on Tuesday, without specifying whether they would be implemented no matter what or in the event of further escalation.
These measures “aim to prevent Russia from raising sovereign debt, to prevent Russian companies from raising funds and even from settling in pounds sterling and dollars on international markets”, he explained.
He also confirmed that London would step up its military aid to Kiev, including lethal weapons, in addition to the anti-tank missiles sent recently.
The UK government has also announced financial support in the form of credit guarantees of up to US$500 million.
Interviewed on the Sky News channel, the head of diplomacy Liz Truss had considered “highly probable” that Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to invade Ukraine and take its capital Kiev.
During an interview with the military, Defense Minister Ben Wallace said for his part, according to the PA Media agency: “Unfortunately, we have a very busy opponent with Putin, he has completely lost his mind”.
He mentioned the regiment of the Scots Guards in which he served, recalling that they had “kicked the buttocks of Tsar Nicolas I in Crimea in 1853”: “We can do it again”.