West News Wire: During meetings in Japan on Wednesday, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said the potential of her country joining NATO was for the protection of its citizens and urged the international community to unify in stepping up sanctions against Russia.

Non-aligned Finland and Sweden are expected to reveal their NATO membership views this week, dealing a severe blow to Russia as its military struggles to make substantial gains in Ukraine.

“If Finland takes this historic move, it will be for the protection of our own population,” Marin said after meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at a news conference. “Joining NATO will enhance the entire international community by promoting shared ideals.”

Marin said she and Kishida discussed “Russia’s horrible aggression against Ukraine and its consequences.” She said that sanctions against Moscow need to cover energy, finance and transport sectors “more broadly than now.”

Kishida thanked Marin for traveling all the way from Helsinki while her government is deciding on NATO membership. He expressed Japan’s eagerness to step up cooperation with Finland in responding to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and also in ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region where Japan is dealing with threats from North Korea and the rise of China’s military power.

Kishida said he and Marin agreed to pursue tough sanctions against Moscow and provide utmost support for Ukraine. “Changes to the status quo by force are not permissible no matter where in the world,” he said.

Japan has quickly joined other industrialized and EU countries in imposing sanctions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. There’s growing fear in Tokyo that the war may embolden China to take more assertive military actions in the East and South China Seas, where Beijing’s vast territorial claims have overlapped with those of its smaller neighbors.

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Japan has frozen assets of Russian leaders, including President Vladimir Putin, and government officials and billionaires close to him as well as key banks, restricted trade and announced a decision to phase out imports of Russian coal and crude oil.

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