Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the United States of trying to “stir up problems” in the run-up to his next election bid.
“In response to our alleged interference in their elections [in the United States], they want to stir up problems during Russian presidential election," Putin said Thursday, according to state-run media.
Putin appeared to be accusing the U.S. of ginning up problems for Russian athletes at the World Anti-Doping Agency just before the 2018 Winter Olympics. The International Olympics Committee on Thursday banned four more Russian athletes from competing in future games, and Putin indicated he suspected the U.S. might be behind that move.
”This is what raises my concern: the Olympic Games are due to begin in February while we will be holding presidential elections in March,” Putin said. “There are vast suspicions that all this is being done to stoke an atmosphere necessary for someone where sports fans and athletes are disgruntled over the fact that the state is allegedly involved in breaches and it is responsible for that.”
The World Anti-Doping Agency concluded in 2015 that Russian athletes engaged in widespread doping before the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, misconduct that took place at a facility monitored by Russian intelligence officials.
The IOC is also mulling whether to ban the entire Russian team from the 2018 games, as numerous national anti-doping agencies have demanded. Russia, which was allowed to compete in 2016, has denied any widespread cheating.
"Never has there been, nor is there now and I hope there never will be a state system of doping support [in sports], which is an allegation that we are accused of,” Putin said.
WADA stands by its findings, despite Russian government claims that the scientist was a rogue actor.
“WADA would expect the Russian authorities to take responsibility for this deliberate system of cheating that was uncovered by the McLaren Investigation – as is stipulated within RUSADA’s Roadmap to Compliance – rather than continually shifting the blame onto others,” WADA spokesperson Maggie Durand told Reuters in September.