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Politics

Tokyo mulls sanctions for Moscow ahead of Crimea referendum

TOKYO -- With the U.S. and its Western allies dialing up their rhetoric on Russia, the Japanese government is considering slapping Moscow with economic sanctions in response to the country's military intervention in the Crimean region of Ukraine.

     After the U.S. and European Union announced economic sanctions early this month, the Japanese prime minister's office instructed Foreign Ministry officials to "consider all options."

     "The request was to prepare a list of possible choices in case Japan goes ahead with sanctions," said an official.

     The U.S. has already moved forward with travel bans and asset freezes, targeting high-ranking Russian officials. Washington is now looking into expanding the scope of the asset freezes. The EU is preparing to impose travel bans as well.

     Japan, however, has yet to take decisive action. Tokyo would like to avoid souring ties with the Kremlin as it works to make headway in a territorial dispute over islands north of Hokkaido.

     Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida has said he wants to "watch what other countries do and respond appropriately."

     No changes have yet been made to a Japan-Russia investment forum scheduled to be held in Tokyo on March 19.

     But with tensions expected to escalate in coming days, Tokyo will likely find itself under heightened pressure to get off the fence. A referendum scheduled for Sunday will ask residents of Crimea to choose to remain part of Ukraine or break away and join the Russian Federation. It is widely expected the poll will lean in Russia's favor.

     The U.S. is readying additional sanctions if the referendum goes forward. On Wednesday, the Group of Seven leaders issued a statement vowing to "take further action" should Russia attempt to annex Crimea.

     Tokyo is also concerned that staying on the sidelines would embolden China in a dispute over islands in the East China Sea.

     Speaking at a parliamentary budget committee Wednesday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared that a Russian takeover of Crimea would be a clear violation of a United Nations charter.

     And on Thursday, Kishida asserted that Japan would not accept a change of the status quo by force in a meeting with his Lithuanian counterpart, Linas Linkevicius, who is visiting Tokyo.

     Some in the Japanese government predict that Tokyo will have no choice but to fall in line with the U.S. and EU should Russia move to annex Crimea. But sources close to the prime minister note that not all G-7 nations are on the same page. While the U.S. and the U.K. are adopting a hawkish stance, Germany and France are proceeding carefully in light of their active trading ties with Russia.

(Nikkei)

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