As the crisis in Ukraine drags on, Japan faces the difficult task of striking a delicate balance between standing by the United States, its main military ally, and maintaining a good relationship with resource-rich Russia.

Observers say Japan must take a clearer stance against any violations of territorial sovereignty while at the same time continue to show Russia that it hopes to build a close relationship. Any signs of wavering on the issue could have a negative impact on ongoing territorial disputes, including over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, they said.

Japan imposed visa bans on 23 people Tuesday, as it followed the United States and European Union in announcing expanded sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine.