TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will attend the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics before holding his fifth summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, an official said Tuesday.
The talks are a further sign of an improving relationship between Tokyo and Moscow since Abe took office in December 2012.
Building trust between the leaders is important for progress towards a bilateral peace treaty that has been hampered by decades-old territorial disputes, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.
However Abe's scheduled attendance puts him out of step with ally the United States and with Germany, whose leaders are unlikely to be at the February 7 event amid international unease at what is seen as illiberal Russian legislation.
Russia's adoption in June of a law prohibiting the dissemination of information about homosexuality to minors has sparked protests from human rights groups and calls for a boycott of the country's first post-Soviet Olympic Games.
In contrast with many other developed countries, gay rights do not register much as an issue on the Japanese public's radar, although society at large is reasonably tolerant.
Abe, whose year in office has been marked by some fairly fast-paced diplomacy, would like to resolve a dispute over contested islands, which Japan claims as the Northern Territories, but Russia administers as the Southern Kurils.
Hours before his departure for Sochi, Abe will be at an annual ceremony calling for the return of the territories seized by Soviet troops as World War II thundered to a close, Suga said.