Japan’s Dilemma with Sanctions Policy Towards Russia: A Delicate Balancing Act

Focus Asia November, 2018, pp. 10

Dr. Maria Shagina gives her views on Japan’s position when it comes to following international sanctions placed on Russia. Her paper explains how the country’s strategic interests have often collided with a sense of obligation to adhere to Western foreign policy actions so it often pursues a delicate balancing act between the push and pull factors.


Showing solidarity with G7 countries, Japan imposed sanctions on Russia, albeit reluctantly. The Ukraine crisis occurred amid Japan’s efforts to reinvigorate its relations with Russia in the hope of solving the territorial dispute. While Japan felt obliged to support the international community and bandwagoned on Western sanctions, the geopolitical dynamics in Asia-Pacific forced it to take a conciliatory approach to Russia.

Addressing its strategic interests, domestically the Abe administration was challenged to keep the balance between the West and Russia. Despite its wrongdoings in Ukraine, Russia was perceived as the resolve to Japan’s strategic concerns. Tokyo’s balancing act resulted in symbolic sanctions to avoid any irritations for Moscow. The evaluation of Russia’s role in Japan’s strategic concerns in the region, however, questions the country’s calculations and the expedience for symbolic sanctions.

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The Institute for Security and Development Policy is an independent, non-partisan research and policy organization based in Stockholm dedicated to expanding understanding of international affairs. With its extensive contact network with partner institutes in Asia, each year ISDP invites a number of visiting researchers as well as guest authors from the region to participate in research, discussion, and exchange with European scholars and policy officials. ISDP’s Focus Asia series serves as a forum for these researchers as well as guest authors to provide and clarify their viewpoints on the contemporary issues and challenges concerning their countries, adding a much-needed Asian perspective to the policy and research debate.

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