MOSCOW - Elton John is to play a concert in Moscow on Friday during which he has vowed to raise the issue of gay rights, braving a controversial new law banning the promotion of homosexuality.
The British singer told CNN last month that he was "going to say something from the stage that's... going to be meaningful" when he plays two dates in Russia, in Moscow on Friday and the Volga city of Kazan on Saturday.
He also said that he wanted to "meet with the LGBT community", describing the current situation in Russia as "awful".
He will be the first major Western star known for strong support of gay rights to play in Russia since President Vladimir Putin in June signed a national law banning "propaganda of homosexuality" to minors.
The loosely worded law, aggressively lobbied by conservative lawmakers, can be used to ban any gay rights event, critics say.
"Of course it's important, the more famous the person is, the more important it is. Elton John is a massive cultural figure in the whole world. It's hard to ignore what he says," said Ivan Tikhonov of the Russian LGBT Network in Saint Petersburg.
Elton John publicly announced his homosexuality in 1988 and is in a civil partnership. He and his partner, David Furnish, have two children born to a surrogate mother. The singer is a major backer of programmes to help those with AIDS. In 2009, Ukraine refused to let him adopt an HIV-positive toddler.
Ahead of the Russian concerts, a conservative parents' group and the outspoken imam of a mosque in Kazan, a city with a large Muslim population, called for a boycott.