MOSCOW: The Kremlin is blaming political chicanery, not its own sports officials, after doctored laboratory data resulted in a ban that means Russia will appear on the global sports stage without its flag or anthem for the next four years.
In the latest twist to the country's continuing doping scandal, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) on Monday handed Russia a four-year ban from top international sporting events, including the next summer and winter Olympics and the 2022 soccer World Cup.
The members of WADA's executive committee unanimously backed such a ban after finding Moscow guilty of supplying doctored doping-related laboratory data.
Russia's response, from President Vladimir Putin downwards, has been defiant and lacking in contrition.
Putin, speaking in Paris earlier on Tuesday, criticised the principle of collective punishment used to sanction Russia.
"I think there is every grounds to suppose that the basis for such decisions is not a care about the purity of international sport, but political considerations which have nothing to do with the interest of sport or the Olympic movement," Putin said.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, a Putin ally, said on Monday he recognised that there were still problems to be resolved, but again he said he saw other forces at work. The move to punish Moscow looked like "anti-Russian hysteria," he said.
When asked on Tuesday whether anyone in Russia should be punished over the doping scandal, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not name any names.
"Right now our main task is to express our disagreement," Peskov said. "The main thing is not to let collective responsibility violate the interests of our athletes. Everything else is secondary."
Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov has sent mixed messages.
When asked on Monday who should be held responsible for the scandal, he said: "What should I answer now? Should I make excuses or point my finger at someone else? I completely and fully understand my level of responsibility."
He went on to add, however, that he had done everything right, having organised the transfer of the laboratory data to WADA.
"It was difficult, but we did it," he said. Last month he attributed the discrepancies in the laboratory data to technical issues.
WADA's compliance review committee said the doctored laboratory data contained fabricated evidence to "support the argument now being advanced by the Russian authorities that it was Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov and two co-conspirators who falsified entries."
Rodchenkov, the former head of the Russian anti-doping laboratory, revealed a vast state-sponsored doping cover-up scheme in 2016 after fleeing to the United States.
"Russia's falsifications and cheating continued in 2019 even when Russia was under scrutiny," he said in a statement on Monday. "As usual, Russia has disregarded all of its promises and obligations to clean sport."
The supervisory board of Russian anti-doping agency RUSADA will convene on Dec. 19 to discuss whether to appeal WADA's punishment of Russia and bring the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
Yuri Ganus, RUSADA's head and one of the few official voices who has said Russia needs to change its sporting culture, has said he doesn't see any chance of winning an appeal.
(Additional reporting by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Christian Radnedge)