Japan will enforce additional sanctions against Russia over alleged "war crimes" in Ukraine, banning imports of coal and vodka, freezing assets held by major lenders Sberbank and Alfa Bank and halting new investments, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Friday.
The five-point sanctions list is part of Japan's latest efforts to add economic and diplomatic pressure on Russia to prevent further escalation of the war in Ukraine and bring about a cease-fire, Kishida told a press conference.
Japan will target an additional 400 individuals for asset freezes, including lawmakers and those linked to the Russian military, bringing the total to around 550. It has already frozen the assets of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his subordinates, considered by the Group of Seven nations to be "the architects" of the aggression in Ukraine.
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The number of organizations whose assets are frozen will double to around 40 under the bolstered sanctions regime.
"Russia has committed repeated violations of international humanitarian law by killing civilians and attacking nuclear power plants," Kishida said.
"We will be implementing powerful sanctions to stop a further escalation, realize a cease-fire as soon as possible and end the invasion," he said.
To hold Russia accountable for its "cruel and inhumane" acts, Japan supports an investigation by the International Criminal Court into the aggression that began in late February, he said.
Shortly before Kishida's press conference, the Japanese Foreign Ministry announced that it will expel eight Russians, including diplomats, from Japan, joining similar moves by the United States and European nations.
Japan's raft of economic and financial sanctions, broadly in line with other G-7 members, could risk significantly worsening bilateral ties with Russia after years of efforts to resolve a territorial dispute and sign a postwar peace treaty.
The newly added Sberbank and Alfa Bank, Russia's largest stated-owned and private lenders, have also been targeted by a new set of U.S. sanctions announced earlier in the week.
The alleged killings by Russia of innocent civilians in areas near Kyiv have prompted Japan to go further in punishing Moscow and target the Russian energy sector, seen as a tough choice for a nation that relies heavily on imports to satisfy domestic energy needs.
"Japan will reduce dependence on Russian energy as a whole, including crude oil," Kishida said.
"We will make maximum use of energy sources that can ensure energy security and contribute greatly to decarbonization such as nuclear power and renewables to avoid power shortages in the summer and winter," when demand is high, he added.
Most of Japan's nuclear power plants remain offline following the 2011 nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, with renewables accounting for only a small portion of the nation's energy mix. Russia accounts for about a tenth of annual coal imports to Japan.
Ahead of a national election this summer, the government is compiling a relief package this month to cushion the blow to consumers of higher fuel costs and food prices caused by the Russian invasion, which has sparked supply concerns.
"We are at a critical point to bring an end to the inhuman aggression and protect our order of peace. I ask for cooperation from each and every one of you," the premier said.
Kishida touched on a speech by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who addressed the Japanese parliament virtually last month.
"President Zelenskyy said, 'Japan is the first Asian nation to have applied pressure on Russia. Keep up the sanctions,'" Kishida said. "We will firmly respond to that call."
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has caused alarm among policymakers in Japan and led some conservative lawmakers to call for the government to beef up defense capabilities.
During the press conference, Kishida called increased activity by Russia's military around Japan "concerning," as it comes at a time when the international order has been shaken to its core by Moscow.
Japan has pledged support for the people of Ukraine. In a rare move, the nation, known for its strict immigration and refugee policy, has begun to take in people fleeing the war-torn country.
The government will secure seats on direct flights from Poland to Japan every week, with the first flight departing the Eastern European nation, which has accepted huge numbers of refugees from its neighbor Ukraine, on Friday.