While the United States and other Group of Seven leaders of advanced economies denounce Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, officials from Japan say that there has been no change in their nation’s relationship with the former Soviet Union. In fact, Trade Minister Toshimitsu Motegi maintains that the direction of the economic and resource diplomacy between the two nations are still on track.
However, a diplomatic source says that many of the Japanese government officials are still in a “state of shock” following the developments in Ukraine. He said, the issue has now become a “big pain in the back for the Japanese government.” During recent months, ties between Moscow and Tokyo, strained by territorial disputes since the end of the Second World War, have improved following meetings between President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which happened five times already since the Abe administration began in late 2012. In fact, mutual energy interests are pushing the two nations to work more closely together. Russia intends to double oil and gas flows to Asia in the next 20 years, while Japan imports fossil fuel to replace lost energy since the shutdown of power plants after the 2011 Fukushima disaster. A senior executive from a Japanese firm working with the energy industry in Russia expressed concern on the developments. “If Western countries come together and agree to take action such as imposing economic sanctions, we may be affected,” he said.
Russian forces occupied Crimea following former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich’s removal from power. Since then, Japan has been cautious in giving out comments or criticisms that may hurt its relationship with Russia. Most statements by Japanese officials echo the G-7 statement on the Crimean situation to respect territorial integrity. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, “As a G-7 member, we agreed on the statement. Japan is hoping that the situation will improve following the statement.” Many speculations on the impact of the West slamming Russia have been circling already. According to Tom O’Sullivan, founder of Mathyos Japan, an independent energy consultancy firm, who described it best, “A worsening relationship between the U.S. and EU with Russia may damage Japan’s ongoing improved dialogue with its closest neighbor if economic, trade or banking sanctions follow.”