By MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press
TOKYO (AP) — Japan announced on Friday that it was expelling eight Russian diplomats and trade officials and would phase out imports of Russian coal and oil, with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida saying Moscow should be held accountable for “crimes of war” in Ukraine.
Kishida said Japan would also ban imports of Russian timber, vodka and other products, and ban any new Japanese investment in Russia.
It will also tighten financial sanctions against Russian banks and freeze the assets of around 400 other individuals and groups, including organizations linked to the military, Kishida told a news conference.
He said the atrocities against civilians and attacks on nuclear facilities in Ukraine are “serious violations of international law and are absolutely unacceptable”.
“We are at a critical juncture in our efforts to get Russia to stop its cruel invasion of Ukraine and restore peace. Everyone, please cooperate,” Kishida said, referring to the impact of sanctions on Japan, such as rising gasoline, electricity and food prices.
Earlier Friday, the Foreign Ministry announced it was expelling eight Russian diplomats and trade officials. European countries have already expelled dozens of Russian diplomats.
Kishida said the deportation was based on a “comprehensive decision taking into consideration Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”. He added that Japan would do its utmost to ensure the safety of Japanese nationals and companies still in Russia in the event of any retaliation.
Europe and the United States have also tightened sanctions against Russia, including restrictions on coal imports, following revelations of horrific atrocities against civilians in Ukrainian cities.
Kishida said the additional sanctions are in line with a Group of Seven industrialized nations agreement.
Reducing fossil fuel imports from Russia is a tough choice for resource-poor Japan, whose hydrocarbon needs make up about half of its total energy mix. The move could mean a shift for Japan’s energy policy towards more renewables and nuclear power.
Russia accounts for about 11% of Japan’s coal imports and also ranks among the top exporters of liquefied natural gas and oil, according to government data.
Kishida said Russian coal is used across industry, from utility companies to cement and steel makers. “We will first need to assess the impact and take action to ban Russian coal ensuring alternatives,” Kishida said, declining to set a timetable for a full ban.
Measures agreed by G-7 leaders include phasing out or banning imports of Russian coal and oil. Commerce Minister Koichi Hagiuda said Japan plans to gradually reduce its energy dependence on Russia while looking for ways to reduce the burden on Japanese businesses.
Japan had already imposed some sanctions, including freezing the assets of senior Russian officials such as President Vladimir Putin, restricting the export of goods, including sensitive military dual-use items, and removing major banks from a international messaging system known as SWIFT.
Japan is playing a larger role in the international effort against Russia due to concerns about the invasion’s impact on East Asia, where the Chinese military has become increasingly assertive.
Japan has already faced retaliation from Russia. Moscow recently announced the suspension of talks on a peace treaty with Tokyo that includes negotiations over Russian-held islands that the Soviet Union seized from Japan at the end of World War II.
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