Russia's Vladimir Putin said there were "major suspicions" that the US is trying to sway the presidential vote in his country by allegations of doping against Russia. Several Russian athletes lost their Sochi medals.
Russian President Vladimir Putin hinted at possible US meddling after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) stripped four Russian cross-country skiers of their Olympic medals on Thursday.
The move comes after two other members of the cross-country team were also sanctioned last week. All of the athletes received life bans from competing at the Olympic Games over allegations of doping.
While visiting a factory in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk with Kazakhstan's president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, Putin said the doping scandal might be aimed at influencing Russia's presidential poll in 2018.
"Here is what concerns me: The Olympic Games are set to start in February, and our presidential election is when? In March," he told the workers, referring to the Winter Olympics in South Korea.
"There are major suspicions that [the doping scandal] is aimed at creating discontent among sport fans and athletes, which some desire, by suggesting that the state was involved in the violations and is responsible for it."
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US pressure as retribution for 2016 vote
The Russian president also said that the international sport associations, including the IOC, were dependent on things like sponsors and sources of advertising revenues.
"The controlling stake of it is in the US," he added. According the Kremlin chief, it is possible that the US is trying to sway the vote as retribution for the alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 vote in America. Putin and all other Russian officials have consistently denied that such meddling took place.
Last month, Putin also claimed that the US had put indirect pressure on the IOC to block Russia from the Winter Olympics.
Russia has 'never had' state-sponsored doping
In 2016, the World Anti-Doping agency issued a damning report accusing Russian authorities of condoning and endorsing illegal doping among athletes. The scandal has continued to spread, despite Russian officials vehemently denying involvement.
"Russia never has had and, I hope, will never have the system of state doping of which we are being accused," Putin said Thursday.
The Russian cross-country ski federation said it was preparing an appeal over Thursday's decision.
dj/ng (AP, dpa, AFP, Interfax)