In the government’s sharpest terms yet, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other officials on Wednesday “condemned” Moscow for its attempted annexation of Crimea and promised further economic sanctions.

Japanese officials, eager to forge closer ties to the resource-rich nation and promote talks to resolve the long-standing territorial issue involving the four Russian-controlled islands northeast of Hokkaido, had taken a relatively cautious approach.

But addressing the Diet on Wednesday, Abe “condemned” Russia for “violating the unity, sovereign and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

Talks with other Group of Seven countries are ongoing and “we are thinking about more (sanctions) against Russia,” Abe said. The United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Canada are the other G-7 members.

“This is the first time we’ve used the word ‘condemn’ ” to criticize Russia, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga noted later at his daily press briefing.

“We can never ignore an attempt to change the status quo through force,” Suga said.

The U.S. and the European Union have already frozen the assets of high-ranking Russian and Crimean officials, and barred them from entering their territory.

Asked if Tokyo will follow suit, Suga responded that Japan will “work together” with other G-7 nations and noted that sanctions against Russia “differ from country to country.”

Meanwhile, Suga said plans to send Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida to Moscow this spring and welcome President Vladimir Putin in the fall have not changed.

“(Those visits) are still a ways off. We haven’t considered (changing the plans) yet at all,” he said.

Kishida’s visit is designed to promote economic ties and lay the groundwork for Putin’s visit.

On Wednesday, about 1,000 businesspeople and government officials from the two countries were to attend a major economic forum in Tokyo to promote Japan’s investment in Russia.

However, despite being scheduled to do so, trade minister Toshimitsu Motegi and three Russian ministers failed to turn up, according to media reports.

“The current situation (in Ukraine) is one of the major reasons” for Motegi’s absence from the event, Suga said.

In a related development, former Polish President and Nobel Peace laureate Lech Walesa condemned Russia’s annexation of Crimea during a visit to Hiroshima on Wednesday.

Changing the status quo of borders through force is unacceptable and wars should not be waged to this end, Walesa, 70, the former leader of Poland’s pro-democracy Solidarity union, told reporters.

Information from Kyodo added

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