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TOKYO: Japan, the world’s third-largest coal importer, said on Friday (Apr 8) it will ban coal imports from Russia and impose a wide range of additional sanctions, including freezing the assets of two major banks and broadening sanctions against individuals.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made the announcement, which follows similar steps taken by the United States and European Union nations, at a news conference shortly after Japan announced it was expelling eight Russian diplomats and trade officials.

This marks a reversal for Japan, which earlier had said it would reduce imports gradually while looking for alternative suppliers in the wake of sanctions against Russia after its invasion of Ukraine on Feb 24.

The move also highlights a potential shift in Japan’s energy procurement policy.

Russia accounted for 11 per cent of Japan’s total coal imports in 2021, according to the government data. Russia was Japan’s fifth-biggest supplier of crude and liquefied natural gas (LNG) in 2021.

Japan imports nearly all of the coal it consumes, making it the third-largest importer after India and China, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration data.

“We would need to find alternative suppliers or we would face difficulties securing domestic coal which could lead to power outages and such. We need to avoid such a situation,” industry minister Koichi Hagiuda said earlier on Friday.

“We will cooperate with Russian sanctions without inflicting a burden on domestic industry”.

Japan will coordinate its moves with the United States and European countries, after the Group of Seven (G7) allies issued a statement pledging additional sanctions on Russia in response to its alleged mass killings of civilians in Ukraine.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a ‘special operation”, Japan has stepped up sanctions ranging from removing Moscow from international payment network SWIFT, to freezing central bank assets.

It also froze assets of Russian officials, oligarchs, banks and other institutions, keeping in step with G7 economies, and banned high-tech exports to Russia.