Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Western leaders agreed Tuesday to unleash a “powerful” economic response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Moscow facing increased isolation but continuing to bombard its neighbor, killing dozens and sparking a refugee crisis.

Japan formally joined the U.S. and other partners in slapping more sanctions on Russia’s embattled leaders and three financial institutions, dealing a potentially crushing blow to the country’s economy.

“We’ve agreed on the need to take powerful sanctions against Russia,” Kishida said after an online meeting with the leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden.

The White House said in a statement that the leaders had discussed “coordinated efforts to impose severe costs and consequences to hold Russia accountable while working to maintain global economic stability.”

Japan, which had faced criticism in some circles for being slow to join the U.S.-led sanctions regime, will freeze the assets of six Russian individuals, including President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the country’s defense chief and the military’s top officer. Tokyo will sanction Russia state-owned Promsvyazbank and Vnesheconombank, in addition to the country’s central bank.

It will also prohibit exports to 49 Russian entities as part of the sanctions, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The government will also ban the export of dual-use products that have military capabilities such as semiconductors.

Tuesday’s moves come on top of measures announced Sunday that saw Japan join efforts by the U.S. and the European Union to block access by some Russian banks to the SWIFT international payment system.

The quick moves by the Kishida administration are widely seen as a strong indicator that Tokyo’s relations with Moscow have shifted dramatically since 2014, when it imposed sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Those measures were criticized as watered-down — at that time, Tokyo feared disrupting talks with Moscow over four Russian-held islands off eastern Hokkaido.

Kishida also said Tuesday that he had agreed with his counterparts to support refugees fleeing the fighting in Ukraine, though he did not detail what type of support this would entail. Later in the day, Justice Minister Yoshihisa Furukawa told lawmakers that the government would work quickly to consider the need for a system to accept refugees from Ukraine, NHK reported.

Japan had earlier pledged to extend $100 million worth of emergency humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.

In its statement after the meeting, the Biden administration said the “leaders recognized the bravery of the Ukrainian people” and had discussed continued security, economic and humanitarian assistance for the country.

More than half a million people have fled the fighting in Ukraine, according to the United Nations refugee agency, triggering a massive European border crisis.

Moscow has so far defied the global pressure campaign. After cease-fire talks failed to secure a breakthrough, it began an intense shelling campaign in residential areas of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, while a winding military convoy appeared to be gathering around the capital, Kyiv.

This strategy was likely part of a ramping-up of fighting that some experts have anticipated.

“Except for heavy shelling around Kharkiv, use of fires have been limited compared to how the Russian (military) typically operates,” Michael Kofman, director of the Russia studies program at the CNA think tank, wrote on Twitter, referring to its artillery and missiles. “Sadly, I think this will change.”

Kofman called the Russian military “an artillery army first, and it has used a fraction of its available fires in this war thus far.”

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks to reporters at his office in Tokyo on Tuesday morning. | KYODO
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks to reporters at his office in Tokyo on Tuesday morning. | KYODO

In Tokyo, the Ukraine crisis has also highlighted concerns that the conflict could divert Washington’s attention away from the Indo-Pacific region, potentially emboldening an increasingly assertive China.

The Biden administration has denied such a scenario, with senior officials repeating the mantra that the White House could “chew gum and walk at the same time.”

Still, top Japanese officials, including Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, have warned that the impact of the Ukraine crisis “will not stop in Europe” and is already reverberating across Asia.

Tokyo is mainly concerned with China, including its moves near self-ruled Taiwan — which Beijing views as a renegade province to be unified with the mainland, by force if necessary — and the Japanese-administered, Chinese-claimed Senkaku Islands.

Nuclear-armed North Korea, meanwhile, has also shown that the conflict in Ukraine will not prevent it from testing weapons, conducting on Sunday what it said was a test of a military reconnaissance satellite.

In the latest attempt to quell concerns that the U.S. may have its hands full with Ukraine, the administration dispatched its top Indo-Pacific official to reiterate the importance of the region and again vow that it would keep its focus there despite the crisis thousands of kilometers away.

White House Indo-Pacific policy coordinator Kurt Campbell said Monday that the United States has been deeply engaged in two theaters simultaneously before, including during World War II and the Cold War.

“It’s difficult. It’s expensive. But it is also essential, and I believe that we’re entering a period where that is what will be demanded of the United States and this generation of Americans,” Campbell told an event hosted by the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

“There is a deep recognition and intention here inside the government, in the White House, to sustain every element of our engagement in the Indo-Pacific,” he added.

Campbell said the U.S. would highlight its “determination” to sustain high-level engagements with the region “over the course of the next several months,” including through a summit with Southeast Asian leaders later this month, a meeting of leaders from “the Quad” in May and an “ambitious” economic agenda that would be unveiled soon.

Putin, however, appears to be looking to keep attention solely focused on him, hinting for the second time in a month on Sunday at the use of nuclear weapons in response to the pressure campaign.

A senior U.S. defense official said Washington was watching for any changes in the Russian strategic forces but had still not seen any “muscle movement” following Putin’s announcement.

In the online talks with Western leaders, Kishida — whose Hiroshima constituency was devastated by an atomic bomb in the final stages of World War II — lambasted Putin’s nuclear saber-rattling.

“I emphasized that Russia’s aggression shakes the very foundations of the international order, and that this requires united and resolute action by the international community,” Kishida said following the talks. “As prime minister from the only nation to have suffered atomic bombings, and in particular coming from Hiroshima, I stressed that we should never tolerate any threat or use of nuclear weapons.”

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