By Nick Butler at the Main Press Centre in Sochi

Vladimir Putin on his way into USA House this evening in a visit which wields much significance ©Getty ImagesFebruary 14 - Russian President Vladimir Putin has this evening made unannounced visits to both the United States and Canada houses here in Sochi in what seems an attempt to improve relations with Western powers. 

Following his return here from Moscow, Putin visited both USA House and then Canada House and mingled with athletes and officials from both nations in the process. 

This comes after the US and Canada were among many Western nations to criticise preparations for Sochi 2014, particularly in relation to Russia's anti-gay rights propaganda laws introduced last year.

Neither US President Barrack Obama nor Canadian counterpart Stephen Harper chose to attend the Games - with the US delegation led instead by three openly gay figures, former tennis player Billie Jean King, two-time Olympic ice hockey medallist Caitlin Cahow, and ex-Olympic skating champion Brian Boitano.

There was also further US criticism of the Games last week after one of the two final Olympic Flame lighters, former three time Olympic figure skating champion Irina Rodnina, was found to have posted allegedly racist messages about US President Obama on twitter.

Rodnina has since apologised for the message and tonight's visit can be taken as further evidence that Putin is using the Games partly to improve relations with his Western counterparts. 

President Putin holds aloft a pair of mittens in Canada House this evening ©AFP/Getty ImagesPresident Putin holds aloft a pair of mittens in Canada House this evening
©AFP/Getty Images

News of his visit spread rapidly via social media - with US luger Preston Griffall among those drawing attention to it when he tweeted: "just hanging out at the USA house in #Sochi with Putin! No big deal!"

Scott Blackmun, chief executive of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), confirmed it was an "unexpected visit."

"We talked about mostly our impression of the Games," Blackmun said.

"He was very interested in knowing what we thought of the level of infrastructure and was genuinely interested on whether we were having a quality experience at the Games."

The visit also follows much criticism of the decision of Obama, Harper and others to skip the Games from IOC President Thomas Bach, who repeatedly said how the Olympics should build bridges to bring people together rather than pushing them apart.

Following this visit, tomorrow's ice hockey showdown between Russia and the US will offer another opportunity for this Olympic harmony between the two nations to be expressed.