Japan backs removing some Russian banks from SWIFT

Pool photo / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks to reporters at his official residence in Tokyo on Sunday.

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Sunday that the country will join the initiative by the United States and the European Union to exclude some Russian banks from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT, as a fresh financial sanction on Russia over its continued invasion of Ukraine.

He also showed a plan to freeze assets held by Russian President Vladimir Putin and other high-ranking Russian government officials.

The Japanese government will provide Ukraine with $100 million in emergency humanitarian aid, Kishida added.

“We now must unite and act decisively to protect the very foundation of the international order,” Kishida told reporters at his official residence. “We will show that costs will be high for a reckless act of violence.”

“We can no longer leave our relations with Russia unchanged,” Kishida said, stressing Japan’s readiness to keep in step with Western countries to increase pressure on Russia over its military aggression against Ukraine.

On a comment from a reporter that Japan was slow to make a decision regarding the SWIFT-related sanction against Russia, Kishida said: “I don’t think that we were late. Coordination on the initiative was made between the United States and Europe, and Japan was asked to join it. Japan’s participation is strongly welcomed by its Group of Seven partners.”

The G-7, a forum of major industrial nations, groups Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States plus the EU.

Russian officials subject to the planned asset freeze other than Putin will be chosen later, Kishida indicated.

As to Japan’s long-standing territorial dispute with Russia over four northwestern Pacific islands, Kishida said, “There is no change at all in our country’s position or my wish to meet expectations from former residents of the islands, but we are not in a situation where we can show a prospect in light of the current circumstances.”

The four islands, known in Japan as the northern territories, were seized by the former Soviet Union from Japan at the end of World War II and have long been claimed by Japan. Due to the territorial row, Tokyo and Moscow have been unable to conclude a peace treaty to formally end their wartime hostilities.

Kishida was planning to hold phone talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Sunday night. But the Ukrainian side requested Tokyo to reschedule the talks because the situation there is becoming serious, according to Kishida.

The plan to remove “selected Russian banks” from SWIFT was announced Saturday in a joint statement from the EU and six of the G-7 countries, excluding Japan.

In a statement released Sunday, the government of Germany, which currently serves as the G-7 chair, praised Kishida’s announcement of the Japanese decision on the SWIFT-linked sanction against Russia.

Germany welcomes the speedy Japanese decision and supports it, the statement said, adding that the country, as the G-7 chair, hopes to work closely with Japan and other partners regarding the sanction.

On the same day, the White House said “we welcome” Kishida’s announcement that Japan will “stand with” its G-7 partners to “isolate Russia from the international financial system,” adding that the Japanese prime minister and the government of Japan “have been leaders in condemning President Putin’s attack on Ukraine.”

“We will continue working closely together to impose further severe costs [on Russia] and make Putin’s war of choice a strategic failure,” it said in a statement.

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel also issued a statement Sunday welcoming Kishida’s decision, saying that it helped establish “a global unified response to the largest land conflict in Europe since World War II.”

“The United States welcomes Prime Minister Kishida’s swift decision,” Emanuel said, adding, “We deeply appreciate the prime minister’s personal leadership.”

“The United States looks forward to coordinating closely with Japan in the coming days” to implement the measure and “to take further steps together with the G-7 and like-minded partners to impose costs on President Putin for his reckless decision to wage war in Ukraine,” the statement also said.