08/02/2012 08:31 EDT | Updated 10/02/2012 05:12 EDT

Will things come to blows? Amid thawing ties, Cameron takes Russia's Putin to Olympic judo

LONDON - Prime Minister David Cameron was meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin for talks in London on Thursday and things are guaranteed to come to blows.

Judo blows, that is.

The two leaders, who have squared off over the world's response to the violence in Syria, were to hold discussions at Cameron's Downing Street home before heading to the London Olympics to see judo matches, the Russian leader's beloved sport.

However, Cameron's latest bout of Olympic diplomacy appears likely to focus on boosting trade, rather persuading Moscow to stop sheltering Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime from tougher international action.

The visit by Putin, an honorary president of the International Judo Federation, is his first to Britain since he was reinstalled as Russia's chief in May, and follows talks with Cameron on the sidelines of May's G-20 meeting in Mexico.

Cameron will push Putin over Russia's refusal to back a tough new U.N. resolution that tries to halt the violence in Syria between Assad's regime and anti-government rebels. Britain called the decision by Russia and China to veto a resolution two weeks ago "inexcusable and indefensible."

But much of Britain's frantic round of Summer Games diplomacy now is aimed at winning 1 billion pounds ($1.6 billion) in new trade on the back of the Olympics, and the talks Thursday will stress efforts to increase British exports to Russia.

"We will be at the judo, so it may be a bit off-putting, but nonetheless, I know my major priority is to get those trade deals to get that investment and not to concentrate on what's happening on the mat," Cameron told business leaders last week.

London Mayor Boris Johnson joked that he wouldn't be surprised to see Putin try to join the competition.

"I hope he will take part — isn't he a dab hand?" Johnson told reporters. "I think that's what people want to see, (Putin) stripped to the waist."

The Russian leader is renowned for his displays of machismo and fondness for posing bare-chested in photographs.

Relations between Britain and Russia soured over the 2006 poisoning death of dissident ex-Russian security agent Alexander Litvinenko in London. Litvinenko made a deathbed statement accusing Putin of authorizing his killing. Russia has refused repeated British requests for the extradition of the chief suspect in the case, ex-KGB agent Andrei Lugovoi, who denies any involvement.

Intelligence co-operation between Britain and Russia remains suspended as a result of Litvinenko's killing.

Leaders of the two countries didn't meet for five years as a result, but in a visit to Moscow last September, Cameron acknowledged that the two nations must set aside their disputes to nurture new trading ties.

It's not clear which judo matches the leaders will be watching Thursday, but finals are taking place in the men's sub-100kg judo category and the women's sub-78kg category.

The visit comes as leading British musicians have joined an international outcry over the treatment of Russian punk band Pussy Riot, whose members were jailed following a protest in Moscow's main cathedral.

In a letter to the Times newspaper in London, musicians — including The Who's Pete Townshend, Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys and Jarvis Cocker — said "dissent is a right in any democracy."

The female rockers faced a court hearing in Moscow on Thursday.