TOKYO — Torn between maintaining solidarity with Washington and keeping a diplomatic door open with Moscow, Japan imposed new sanctions on Russia on Tuesday but kept them more limited than those recently ordered by the United States.
The new sanctions indicate that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe felt he needed to fall in line with the United States, his country’s longtime protector, analysts said, especially as he tries to fend off territorial claims by an increasingly powerful China.
Still, Abe appeared to be trying to strike a delicate balance not only by limiting the sanctions, but also by indicating that he had not canceled an invitation to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to visit Japan in the fall. Abe has been pursuing warmer relations with Moscow, in part, analysts say, to ensure that Japan does not lose out on Russia’s bounty of natural gas.
“Japan is sending the message that we are not enthusiastic about these sanctions,” said Yoshiki Mine, a research director at the Canon Institute for Global Studies in Tokyo and a former high-ranking Japanese diplomat. “Japan needs to show it shares the same values as the West, but it also wants to keep an opening with Russia.”
The Japanese sanctions will freeze any assets in Japan belonging to two organizations and 40 individuals connected with Russia’s involvement in Ukraine. The people named by Japan had already been targeted by the Americans and Europeans for being involved in Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, or in what the West calls Russian-backed efforts to destabilize eastern Ukraine, according to a government spokesman.
Analysts called the measures largely symbolic since Japan does not import much from Crimea, and it is unclear how many, if any, assets the targeted people hold in Japan.
The latest round of American and European sanctions against Russia went much further, taking broad aim at the country’s banking, energy and military technology industries.
Mine and others said Japan’s apparent hesitation over sanctions underscored how Abe was being torn by competing geopolitical goals.
On the one hand, analysts said, Abe wants to avoid falling too far behind the United States and the European Union in punishing Moscow, especially after the downing of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner last month.
But Russia and Japan have new incentives to make a deal, analysts said, over three islands and a group of islets off its northern coast that were occupied by Soviet troops after Japan surrendered in 1945, because Putin has been looking to Asia for customers for Russia’s gas and oil, and Japan has been seeking new energy supplies.