• Reuters

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President Vladimir Putin may delay his visit to Japan because of sanctions Tokyo has imposed on Russia for its role in the Ukraine crisis, Moscow’s acting ambassador to Japan was cited as saying by Russian state media on Thursday.

Japan, in a coordinated move with Western countries, has imposed sanctions on Moscow for its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in March and its involvement in a pro-Russian rebellion in eastern Ukraine. Moscow denies sending troops and arms to the area.

However, Tokyo’s measures against Russia have been lighter than those of the United States or the European Union, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has continued to try to court Moscow despite relations already being strained by a long-running territorial dispute.

“Sanctions of course have affected our relationship. In particular, we are talking about the schedule of contacts which was agreed upon and worked out,” Yevgeniy Afanasiev told Russia’s official newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

“We had built a very clear timetable to prepare for the visit of Vladimir Putin to Japan. Unfortunately that schedule has been moved,” he said.

Putin himself would decide whether or not to travel to Japan, Afanasiev added.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov could not be reached for comment.

Japan is hoping to forge close energy and economic ties with Russia following decades of troubled relations between the two countries over a series of disputed islands that the Soviet Union seized near the end of World War II.

The island dispute has prevented the neighbours from signing a formal peace treaty.

Last month, Japan “strongly protested” Russia’s holding of military exercises on the islands.

Last week EU member states agreed on new sanctions against Russia over military involvement in the five-month war in eastern Ukraine. The new sanctions would come into force on Friday, an EU diplomat has told Reuters.

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