TOKYO - Japanese foreign minister Fumio Kishida has urged Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to start talks with Ukraine on resolving the Crimean crisis, warning that a looming breakaway vote is unacceptable, his ministry said Wednesday.
In an hour-long telephone conversation with Lavrov late Tuesday, Kishida "encouraged Russia to hold a direct dialogue with the Ukrainian interim government without harming Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," the ministry said in a statement.
Japan's top diplomat also expressed concerns over a potentially explosive breakaway vote in Crimea that could see it join the Russian federation, it said, as tensions rise in eastern Ukraine.
Japan "cannot accept changes to the status quo through force and strongly demands that the issue be settled peacefully," it said.
In response, Lavrov "explained Russia's position and expressed a negative reaction to direct dialogue as it does not see legitimacy in the Ukrainian interim government," the statement said.
The comments came as concerns rise over a Russian annexation of the strategic peninsula after the Crimean parliament voted for independence ahead of a Sunday referendum on joining Russia.
Russia's leaders are refusing all dialogue with their Ukrainian counterparts following the ouster of the country's pro-Moscow leader, Ukraine's acting president Oleksandr Turchynov told AFP in an exclusive interview Tuesday.
Also Tuesday, Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry failed again to bridge differences on resolving the simmering crisis.
Criticism of Moscow is a tough balancing act for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as he moves to resolve a decades-long territorial dispute with Russia and build economic ties.
But last week, Abe assured US President Barack Obama that Tokyo would back Washington's efforts to address the Ukraine crisis as it lined up sanctions on Russia.