Japan foreign minister to leave for crisis-racked Ukraine

TOKYO - Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida was to leave Tuesday on a visit intended to show support for crisis-racked Ukraine, a ministry official said.

The visit - which also includes a trip to the central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan - will be the first by a Japanese minister to Ukraine since tensions erupted on the Crimean peninsula earlier this year.

It also comes after Kiev launched a military offensive against rebels in the east who declared independence after the toppling of Ukraine's former pro-Kremlin leader.

Kishida's trip was "meaningful to show Japan's support" for Ukraine following the installation of a new government under President Petro Porochenko, a foreign ministry official said.

The Japanese foreign minister was set to affirm with his counterpart in Kiev that neither side can accept "changing the status quo by force", the official added on condition of anonymity.

Foreign ministers from Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France earlier this month urged fresh talks to agree a ceasefire to end growing violence in the east of the country.

Japan is playing a delicate balancing act as it toes the Western line on Ukraine while trying to maintain relations with Moscow so it can resolve a decades-old territorial dispute.

A visit by Kishida to Russia in April was postponed for "scheduling reasons".

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has held multiple summits with Russian President Vladimir Putin since coming to office in late 2012, pushing to expand economic ties and resolve the dispute over the ownership of islands that were seized by Soviet troops in the dying days of World War II.

But the crisis in Ukraine complicated the situation as Tokyo sided with its allies in Europe and North America, heaping sanctions and pressure on Moscow.

In Kyrgyzstan, Kishida will hold biennial foreign ministerial talks between Japan and five Central Asian countries - Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.