Japan is stepping up its rhetoric and economic measures against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, furthering Moscow’s economic isolation and joining the United States and European nations in calling for investigations into accusations of war crimes.
The country said on Friday that it would expel eight Russian diplomats, and announced a ban on Russian coal and restrictions on imports including timber, vodka and machinery.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida lambasted what he said were “brutal and inhumane acts” carried out by Russian forces in cities across Ukraine, including in the suburban town of Bucha near the capital, Kyiv. He accused them of having repeatedly violated international humanitarian law by attacking civilians and nuclear power plants, a sore point for Japan given its 2011 experience with nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
“We must hold Russia strictly accountable for these atrocities,” he said, calling actions by Russian troops “unforgivable war crimes.” Japan supports an ongoing investigation by the International Criminal Court into accusations of Russian war crimes in Ukraine, he added, and would support an independent inquiry by the United Nations.
Japan’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador on Friday and cited the killings of civilians in large numbers, calling them war crimes, the ministry said in a statement.
In a significant shift from past instances of Russian aggression on its neighbors, Japan acted swiftly after Russia invaded Ukraine in late February to send aid to Ukraine and impose economic penalties and sanctions on Russian individuals and entities.
Japan this week added hundreds of people and organizations to its Russia sanctions and said that it would freeze the assets of two of Russia’s largest banks, Sberbank and Alfa Bank, which are also subject to U.S. sanctions. Mr. Kishida said the country would also prohibit new investment in Russia.
Moves to curb energy imports from Russia could be costly for Japan, which is resource poor and heavily dependent on overseas fossil fuels for its power generation. Mr. Kishida said the country would wean itself off dependence on Russia by turning to renewable energy and nuclear power, steps that are likely to take time and could be politically contentious. Japan took most of its nuclear plants offline after a tsunami in 2011 set off the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster, one of the worst in history.
Japanese officials did not specify a time frame for the coal ban, saying only that Russian energy imports would be reduced “in stages.”
In addition to coal, Japan imports significant amounts of liquefied natural gas from Russia. Mr. Kishida said last week that the country would not pull out of joint ventures with Russian state-owned companies for oil and gas projects near northern Japan. He said they were “extremely important” to Japan’s energy security.
An editorial in the Yomiuri Shimbun, one of Japan’s major daily newspapers, said on Friday that the country should play a role in making President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia realize that his invasion of Ukraine was wrong.
“The United States, Europe and Japan must unite and increase pressure on Russia so that its invasion ends in failure,” the newspaper said.