Russian President Vladimir Putin is to blame for a doping scheme that resulted in his nation’s exclusion from the 2018 Winter Olympics, according to a prominent GOP senator.

“Of course, cheating on this scale could only occur in Russia with Vladimir Putin’s approval and the support of his intelligence services and Ministry of Sport,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said Tuesday.

The International Olympic Committee decided on Tuesday to ban Russia from the 2018 Games, as punishment for a widespread doping scandal in the run-up to the 2014 Sochi Games. That sets the stage for the return of the quadrennial games as a geopolitical football, after the proxy competitions that characterized the Cold War-era Olympics.

“Putin’s scheme to steal gold medals from deserving athletes around the world was merely another way to distract his own people from Russia’s failing economy and his corrupt and repressive rule,” Cotton said.

Some Russian athletes will be allowed to compete under a neutral flag, at the invitation of the International Olympic Committee, if its confirmed that they have not taken any performance-enhancing drugs.

"We oppose the violation of our athletes’ rights, we are against groundless violations of rights, but at the same time, Russia remains committed to the Olympic ideas,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday.

Putin took a more defiant approach in recent weeks by saying that the controversy was an American-led effort to embarrass him in the run-up to Russia’s 2018 elections.

“In response to our alleged interference in their elections [in the United States], they want to stir up problems during the Russian presidential election,” he said in November. “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.”

International investigators, with the help of a Russian whistleblower, concluded that Russia executed an "institutional conspiracy" to help cheating athletes pass their drug tests ahead of the Sochi games. Still, Cotton didn’t hesitate to suggest that the scandal would cause political problems for Russia’s longest serving leader since Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

“Russia’s expulsion from the Olympic Games now highlights the corruption at the black heart of the Kremlin,” the Arkansas Republican said.