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Why Japan Declined to Follow US Sanctions Against Russia

Updated: Apr 27, 2023

As a foreign policy tool, the United States has historically depended on economic penalties to persuade other nations to abide with its demands. The effectiveness of these sanctions, however, has been questioned when it comes to Russia. Many nations, particularly Japan, which is increasingly dependent on Russian energy, have declined to follow the US government's lead.

After the production cuts by OPEC+ that drove up prices even more, Japan is now purchasing Russian crude oil over the $60 per barrel ceiling. The nation is currently the only one in the G7 to be purchasing Russian oil beyond the limit set by the allies following the invasion of Ukraine. All of the country’s needs are met by imports, therefore it relies upon importing gas, coal and oil to sustain its energy levels.

Reports suggest that Japan persuaded Washington to accept the exception, breaking with US-led efforts to implement the $60 per barrel quota. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan was the latest G-7 leader to visit the war-torn nation following Russia's invasion, and it is also the only G-7 country that has not provided arms to Ukraine.

There are many other reasons behind this latest development. Russia is the second-largest oil producer in the world, and the energy industry plays a significant role in the country's economy. Since Russia has the infrastructure and resources to continue producing and exporting energy regardless of external pressures, sanctions on this sector haven’t had the desired impact of altering its behaviour.

Russia has a track record of enduring economic sanctions. The Soviet Union experienced decades of economic isolation throughout the Cold War and managed to remain a superpower. Due to its annexation of Crimea and involvement in the crisis in eastern Ukraine, Russia has recently endured a number of US and EU sanctions; nonetheless, its economy has continued to expand.

The fact that many countries have been hesitant to join in with US sanctions against Russia is another factor contributing to their limited impact. For instance, despite American sanctions, China, a significant commercial partner of Russia, has kept up its relations with the nation. Similar concerns have prevented many European nations from imposing severe economic sanctions on Russia.

Japan has also approached Russia with caution. Due to the shutdown of its nuclear power reactors in the wake of the Fukushima accident in 2011, the nation has become more and more dependent on energy imports. As a result, it is looking into alternate energy sources, such as Russian natural gas.

Japan's reliance on Russian energy reflects its geopolitical interests. In particular, given its proximity to North Korea and its continuing territorial conflict with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, Japan is acutely conscious of its vulnerability to disruptions in the oil supply. A fundamental element of Japan's energy security strategy is diversifying its energy sources, including bypassing US sanctions to purchase oil from Russia.


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