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Japan sanctions Russian oligarchs and Belarus officials

Japan sanctions Russian oligarchs and Belarus officials
Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced new sanctions against Russian oligarchs and Belarus officials on Thursday. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo

March 3 (UPI) -- Japan announced a new round of sanctions against Russia and Belarus on Thursday, targeting banks, officials and -- in a first for the country -- several Russian oligarchs, as it continues to join with the United States and Europe in an aggressive economic response to the invasion of Ukraine.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida approved sanctions that will freeze the assets of 18 Russian individuals and four banks, as well as seven high-ranking Belarusian officials, Japan's foreign ministry said.

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Among the Russian oligarchs named are Rosneft boss Igor Sechin, whose yacht was seized by France on Thursday; billionaire financier Yuri Kovalchuk; VTB Bank chairman Andrei Kostin; and Sergei Chemezov, head of weapons maker Rostec.

Also making the sanctions list are Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and defense minister Viktor Khrenin.

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Washington applauded the move, with U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emmanuel saying Thursday the coordinated international measures were turning Russia into a "pariah state."

"Japan's resolute action demonstrates clearly to Russia's oligarchs and corrupt leaders that they can no longer enjoy the benefit of Putin's violent regime," Emmanuel said in a statement.

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"Together, we are isolating Russia as it continues its descent as a pariah state, and we are committed to imposing unprecedented economic costs for Putin's cronies and enablers," he said.

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On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced a "KleptoCapture" task force specifically targeting the assets of Russian oligarchs and the tools they use to evade sanctions.

Tokyo has long taken a cautious foreign policy approach with Moscow and appeared hesitant at first to fully engage in the Western-led sanctions regime after Russia invaded Ukraine last week.

But Kishida has since taken decisive steps to join the punishing economic measures, including freezing the Russian central bank's foreign exchange assets and banning some Russian banks from the SWIFT international banking network.

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Japanese corporations have also begun to distance themselves further from Russia amid security and supply chain concerns. Automaker Toyota announced Wednesday that it was suspending production at its plant in St. Petersburg and halting imports of vehicles indefinitely. Honda and Mazda earlier announced they were stopping shipments to Russia.

On Wednesday, Japan scrambled a fighter jet and lodged a diplomatic protest after a suspected Russian helicopter entered its airspace.

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