Japan and Australia impose new sanctions on Russian entities

People protesting the Russian invasion of Ukraine in Tokyo on March 4, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO/SYDNEY (REUTERS) – Japan and Australia on Friday (March 18)  imposed new sanctions on Russian entities as punishment for the invasion of Ukraine, which the West says has been stalled by staunch resistance but continues to take a devastating toll on civilians.

Japan said it will impose sanctions against 15 Russian individuals and nine organisations, including defence officials and state-owned arms exporter Rosoboronexport.

The sanctions, which include asset freezing, are the latest in a series of measures by Japan following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Japan has now slapped sanctions on 76 individuals, seven banks and 12 other organisations in Russia, according to the finance ministry.

The government on Friday designated Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova and several military equipment makers including United Aircraft, which manufactures fighter jets.

Japan still has stakes in gas and oil projects in Russia’s Sakhalin island, after Shell and Exxon Mobil pulled out from those projects.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday gave no clear indication of the fate of Japan’s investment in the projects, underscoring both their importance for Tokyo’s energy security and his intention to keep in step with Group of Seven peers’ sanctions against Russia.

The Russian ambassador in Tokyo said on Thursday it was only logical to maintain “mutually beneficial” energy projects in Sakhalin.

Separately, Australia imposed sanctions on two Russian oligarchs with links to its mining industry, one of them a billionaire with an investment connection to Rio Tinto’s Gladstone alumina refinery joint venture.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Australia was working in close cooperation with international partners to increase sanctions pressure on oligarchs close to Russian President Vladimir Putin over the invasion of Ukraine.

“Australia has now added two billionaires with links to business interests in Australia, Oleg Deripaska and Viktor Vekselberg,” Ms Payne said in a statement.

The measures are in addition to curbs on 41 oligarchs and immediate family members who already face targeted financial sanctions and travel bans, she said.

Ms Payne said the government welcomed Australian companies taking a principled stand with moves to cut ties with Russia “in protest of Moscow’s illegal, indefensible war against Ukraine”.

Mr Vekselberg is an investor in the Russian energy sector, who has interests in a company working with Origin Energy on a gas project in the Beetaloo Basin in the Northern Territory.

Origin Energy said it was seeking clarification on the sanctions from the Australian government, and told Reuters the Beetaloo Basin project was not a producing asset and had no earnings.

“Origin reiterates that it is appalled by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and will comply with all Australian rules and laws,” Origin said in a statement.

It said Mr Vekselberg owned Lamesa Holdings, which was a minority shareholder in Falcon Oil and Gas, the parent company of Origin’s junior partner in the Beetaloo Basin.

“Neither Lamesa Holdings nor Mr Vekselberg are a party to the Beetaloo Basin joint venture. They have no role in, involvement or dealings with, Origin or the Beetaloo Basin joint venture,” it said.

Big Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the impact of the sanctions on Mr Deripaska, who holds 44.9 per cent of EN+ Group, a Russian aluminium and power group.

EN+ Group is the major shareholder in Russian company Rusal, which has a 20 per cent share in the Queensland Alumina refinery in Gladstone, in a joint venture with Rio Tinto.

Rio Tinto previously said it was cutting ties with Rusal as part of its overall withdrawal from Russia.

Queensland Alumina did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr Deripaska reduced his controlling stake in EN+ Group from 70 per cent in 2019 – to lift a prior round of US sanctions from the major aluminium producer.


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