GOOD PALS: F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone (L) and Russian president Vladimir Putin (R) shake hands at the 2014 Russian GP, Putin will be attendance at this year's event. Image: AFP / Aleksey Nikolsky
Sochi, Russia - Controversial president Vladimir Putin will attend the Russian grand prix at Sochi on Sunday, the state-owned Tass news agency reports.
Adding that Putin plans to meet with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, a Kremlin spokesman confirmed: "The president will attend these (F1) competitions."
Friend of Ecclestone's
Tass said Putin has met with Abu Dhabi's crown prince before, the report explaining that one issue discussed was "the situation in the Middle East, including in Syria".
In the West, Putin has been harshly criticised in recent weeks following Russia's controversial military intervention in Syria.
But an avowed friend of Putin's is the F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who has admitted his affection for the Russian president in the past.
Ecclestone, however, was criticised for taking the sport into Russia in 2014, particularly after the Malaysian Airlines flight was shot down in the Ukraine.
The 84-year-old is unapologetic.
"Opened doors to more countries"
Ecclestone told the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf at Sochi: "I think it's good for F1 that we have opened the doors to more countries.
"It is part of the development of the sport. Without progress, we would still be at Zandvoort," he insisted.
Ecclestone added: "Many emerging economies have picked up the gauntlet and gone to work, while some organisers of the old circuits were looking backwards and did nothing to improve themselves."