People from Ukraine stage a protest rally near the Russian Embassy in Tokyo on Wednesday, following Moscow’s recognition of two pro-Russian separatist regions in eastern Ukraine and an order of troop deployments there. (Kyodo Photo)

KYODO NEWS SERVICE

TOKYO — Japan will implement a set of economic sanctions against Russia  and two pro-Russian separatist regions in eastern Ukraine after Moscow formally recognized the areas and ordered the deployment of troops there, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Wednesday.

The government will suspend visa issuance for officials from the two regions and freeze their assets. It will ban exports to and imports from the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk as well as the issuance and trading of new Russian sovereign bonds in Japan, Kishida said.

Japan has condemned the latest Russian move as a violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine as well as international law. Kishida had stressed the importance of close coordination with other members of the Group of Seven nations in taking a “tough” approach to Russia.

The sanctions are similar to those announced Tuesday by the U.S., in what President Joe Biden called a “first tranche.” Britain and the European Union also decided to impose economic sanctions.

“We strongly urge Russia to return to efforts to break the impasse through a diplomatic process,” Kishida told reporters Wednesday morning.

Russia has so far defied calls from the G-7 to defuse the tensions sparked by its buildup of military forces near Ukraine’s borders.

Tensions have spiked since Russia recognized the Donetsk and Luhansk regions as independent and ordered the deployment of troops to maintain peace there. Biden has described the situation as the “beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

“The situation is becoming all the more tense,” Kishida said, adding that Japan will take additional steps swiftly in coordination with the G-7 and other nations if the crisis deepens.

The Japanese government has set up a liaison office in the western Ukraine city of Lviv and arranged charter flights to help Japanese nationals leave the country. Kishida said Japan will use all possible means to protect its citizens.

The leaders of the G-7 — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.S., plus the European Union — will hold a virtual meeting on Thursday to discuss the Ukrainian situation.

A decades-old territorial dispute with Russia over a group of islets off Hokkaido in northern Japan has apparently put Tokyo in a difficult position in determining how tough its sanctions should be.

Japan imposed sanctions against Russia following the 2014 annexation of Crimea in concert with the U.S. and Europe, though critics questioned the effectiveness of its response.

The Ukraine-Russia crisis has rattled financial markets, sending share prices lower but crude oil prices sharply higher as Russia is one of the world’s major oil suppliers. Japan has decided to divert part of its liquefied natural gas imports to Europe, which is facing the threat of supply disruptions given its high reliance on Russia.

“The current situation will not have an immediate impact on stable energy supplies (in Japan),” Kishida said, noting that Japan has sufficient crude oil and LNG in reserves.

But the prime minister added that the government will consider “all possible options” to mitigate the impact of higher crude oil prices on Japanese households.

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