For the last five years, a vicious civil war has shattered Syria. Now it’s tearing apart much more than a single nation, opening bitter splits across the globe.
Divisions between Moscow and London have been tense over Syria for some time: they’ve now taken a strange new turn. On Monday, Margarita Simonyan, the Editor in Chief of government-owned Russian broadcaster Russia Today, tweeted that British bank accounts associated with the station had been frozen.
Нам закрыли счета в Британии. Все счета. 'Решение пересмотру не подлежит'. Да здравствует свобода слова!— Маргарита Симоньян (@M_Simonyan) 17 October 2016
They've closed our accounts in Britain. All our accounts. 'The decision is not subject to review.' Praise be to freedom of speech!
There’s a clear reason for the strain in UK-Russia relations over recent weeks: Aleppo. Russian planes are currently involved in military campaign in Syria in alliance with Syrian president Bashar al Assad – an involvement that has resulted in hundreds of casualties in the last month alone. And the British government is debating whether to take action against Regime forces in the country, with possibilities including a no-fly zone and economic sanctions on the table.
Given the context, commentators were quick to draw a link between sanctions and suspended accounts. Russia Today is a controversial outfit well known for broadcasting a view on the news that reflects Russian state opinion. It’s riled major British broadcaster the BBC with accusations before: freedom of speech considerations aside, it could be a target for restrictions.
To say that the news raised eyebrows would be an understatement. Politicians like George Galloway – a firebrand left winger sympathetic to Russia – were furious. Others raised deeper concerns about the right to free expression.
"The British state is a significant shareholder in Natwest. This is a political decision and an attack on Russia." LIVE @RT_com— George Galloway (@georgegalloway) 17 October 2016
A source for the British Treasury told the Guardian newspaper, however, that the government had not influenced the decision of the bank, and that new sanctions on Russia had not been announced.
But this is more than just a spat over a state broadcaster. Any escalation between Russia and Western nations invokes memories of a rather grim period of international relations – and Twitter wasted no time in highlighting the apparent link.
I think we can say Cold War 2.0 is now official https://t.co/LAbLZTaHVy— Hari Kunzru (@harikunzru) 17 October 2016
Even if the Cold War hasn’t quite returned, it’s clear that the tension between the UK and Russia is heating up. Whether the enmity will remain on non-military interventions over Syria, however, is something we’re yet to find out.
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