Japan's Prime Minister and ruling LDP leader Shinzo Abe gestures while delivering a speech at the party's headquarters in Tokyo. Picture: Toru Hanai/Reuters

Tokyo - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe departed for Russia on Monday to hold talks with President Vladimir Putin on economic cooperation on four islands at the centre of a decades-old territorial spat between the two countries.

Abe and Putin are also likely to discuss security issues and the denuclearization of North Korea during their meeting in the far-eastern Russian port city of Vladivostok later in the day, Kyodo News agency reported.

During Putin's visit to Japan in December 2016, the two leaders agreed to begin discussing joint economic projects on the Russian-controlled Kuril Islands. However, there has been very little progress since then.

Japan also claims the islands, off its northern island of Hokkaido, calling them the Northern Territories.

Soviet troops seized the islands in the closing days of World War II, forcing 17,000 Japanese residents to leave. The territorial dispute has prevented the two countries from concluding a post-World War II peace treaty.

"I would like to make progress towards resolving the territorial issue and concluding the peace treaty while developing the two countries' relations in various fields," Abe told reporters before leaving for Russia.

During his four-day tour, Abe is also expected to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum, ahead of his planned visit to China in October.