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As Western leaders decide to shun Sochi, Abe will go

by Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writer

Many Western leaders have decided to skip the Sochi Winter Olympics in February, but not Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

He is planning to attend the Feb. 7 opening ceremony, hoping to showcase the importance Tokyo is placing on its relations with Moscow and resolving the long-standing dispute over the Russian-held islands off Hokkaido.

Officials are making the final arrangements to carve some time out of Abe’s busy schedule, which is already crammed with budget deliberations in the Diet.

Besides attending the Olympic opening in the Russian resort area, Abe also wants to hold a summit with President Vladimir Putin.

If officials can pull off a meeting, it will be the fifth summit between the two leaders in the last year.

Although Abe’s visit likely won’t lead to any movement in the territorial dispute, he hopes to a nurture strong personal relationship with Putin and lay a firm foundation for talks leading to the signing of a peace treaty and a formal end to World War II.

By heading to Sochi, Abe is standing out. U.S. President Barack Obama plans to shun the Olympics, and European leaders such as French President Francois Hollande and German President Joachim Gauck have also announced they won’t be attending.

Their snubs are widely considered protests to anti-gay legislation passed by Russia last year. The law carries fines for providing information about homosexuality to minors.

On the other hand, leaders from China, Holland, Finland, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria and Kazakhstan had announced as of Thursday they will be going to the opening ceremony.

Abe’s intention will be made official soon, sources said.

Apart from a chance to boost his relations with Putin, Abe’s attendance will benefit him in preparing for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the sources said.

Japan and Russia are also scheduled to hold foreign vice ministerial talks on Jan. 31 in Tokyo over the stalled dispute over the islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri and Shikotan and the Habomai islet group.