TOKYO Japan has postponed a visit to Russia by Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida that had been planned for later this month, the foreign ministry said on Thursday, as bloodshed in an eastern city in Ukraine threatened to overshadow crisis talks in Geneva.
A Japanese foreign ministry spokesman said the visit had been postponed for scheduling reasons.
The decision to put off the visit comes ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's April 23-25 state visit to Japan, where the issue of the Ukraine is expected to come up in a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Japan joined other members of the Group of Seven (G7) rich nations in imposing sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea in southern Ukraine, not least due to Japan's concern that a weak response would embolden China to put military muscle behind its claims to tiny islands in the East China Sea that are controlled and also claimed by Japan.
"What we can say after watching what happened to Ukraine is that changes to the status quo by force should not be tolerated," Abe told a symposium earlier on Thursday.
"Countries all over the world need to securely maintain the order that respects laws. Therefore, what happened in Ukraine does not only concern Ukraine, or only Europe, but is an issue for the world," he said.
Despite G7 unity over imposing sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea, it did not go unnoticed in the White House that Japan's sanctions were less robust than U.S. or European steps.
The topic could fan bilateral tension if Obama presses for more measures covering the oil and gas trade, given Abe's push for warmer ties with Russia as Japan seeks to diversify its energy imports after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Obama said on Wednesday Russia could expect further sanctions if it steps up support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian, Russian and Western diplomats arrived for emergency talks in Switzerland, but there was little hope of any progress in resolving a crisis that has seen armed pro-Russian fighters seize whole swathes of Ukraine.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by Dominic Lau and Robert Birsel)