Japan to Ban Russian Coal Imports in Surprise Policy Shift


Japan will ban imports of Russian coal, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said, in a bold policy shift that adds pressure on Moscow after the European Union announced its own embargo on the fuel.

“Russia’s cruel and inhumane actions are coming to light one after another all over Ukraine,” Kishida told reporters in Tokyo on Friday, adding Moscow must be made to take responsibility. “We will ban imports of Russian coal.” 

Japan will secure alternative sources quickly and cut imports in stages, reducing reliance on Russia for energy, he added, declining to give a time frame for the move. 

The coal plan signals a policy reversal for Japan, which had previously drawn a line at cutting energy ties to Russia because of its heavy dependence on fuel imports. Russian coal imports make up about 13% of Japan’s power-generating supply and are also used in steel production and the cement industry. 

But while the action on coal came as a surprise, Kishida has been acting with unprecedented speed to clamp down on Russia, including by freezing the assets of individuals and entities, and stripping the country of its most-favored nation trade status. The prime minister has sought to show solidarity with the U.S. and Europe on sanctions, amid fear that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could embolden China to take similar action over disputed territory in Asia.

The sanctions have been popular with the public, polling has shown, boosting support for Kishida’s government ahead of an upper house election set to be held in July. The premier also pledged his government would compile the biggest-possible measures to tackle rising prices. 

Japan’s move comes as pressure builds against Russia in response to reports that the country’s forces committed apparent war crimes in Ukraine. The EU agreed Thursday to ban Russian coal imports, while the Group of Seven leaders issued a statement saying the countries would ban new investment into Russia’s energy sector and expand trade restrictions, including phasing out and banning coal imports.

Japan will also ban the imports of Russian goods such as vodka and some types of timber from next week, while new investment in Russia would also be forbidden, Kishida said. 

In a further raft of financial sanctions, the government will freeze the assets of Sberbank of Russia PJSC and Alfa Bank PJSC and more Russian individuals and groups, bringing the total to about 550 individuals and 40 groups, he added. 

Before Kishida spoke, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said the country would expel eight Russian officials including diplomats. The ministry summoned the country’s ambassador and told him Tokyo believes the Kremlin’s forces had committed war crimes in Ukraine, spokeswoman Hikariko Ono told reporters.

Japan has been reluctant to make a complete break with Russia. Kishida said last week his country wouldn’t withdraw from the Sakhalin-1 offshore oil joint venture with Russia, or the Sakhalin-2 liquefied natural gas export project, citing Japan’s energy security needs.

However, several power generators in Japan said they wouldn’t make additional spot or term purchases of Russian coal. Jera Co., Japan’s top power producer, has Russian coal as part of its portfolio but aims to secure supply from other countries going forward, according to a company spokesman. Kyushu Electric Power Co. suspended spot procurement of Russian coal, while Shikoku Electric Power Co. said it won’t import from the country for the time being.