Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested Thursday that the United States is trying to interfere in Russia's presidential elections through punishments meted out against its Olympic athletes, according to a state news agency.
"In response to our alleged interference in their elections [in the United States], they want to stir up problems during [the] Russian presidential election," Putin said, according to the state news agency TASS.
The International Olympic Committee, or IOC, on Thursday announced sanctions against four Russian athletes related to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, saying they committed anti-doping rule violations. The IOC announced sanctions against two other Russian athletes for doping violations from the 2014 Sochi games on Nov. 1.
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Putin has not officially declared his candidacy yet in the March election.
Russia has denied having a state-run doping system. Putin said Thursday that the country has never had such a system, but he acknowledged that "certain instances [of doping abuse] are taking place just like in other countries," according to TASS.
But Putin suggested that the United States was behind the allegations by trying to draw a link between the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February and Russia's presidential election, according to TASS. Putin claimed that the Olympics depend on TV broadcast rights and advertisers.
"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," Putin said, according to TASS.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia was involved in a campaign to try and influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
A public report released in January alleged that Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump.
The IOC is expected to make a decision on the participation of Russian athletes at the 2018 Winter Games in December, the committee said.
The Russian Cross-Country Ski Federation said Thursday that four cross-country skiers at the Sochi Olympics had been disqualified by the IOC and banned from all future Olympics: Maxim Vylegzhanin, Alexei Petukhov, Yulia Ivanova and Evgenia Shapovalova. Vylegzhanin won three silver medals in Sochi, but none of the others won medals.
Six Russian cross-country skiers have been found guilty of doping at the Sochi Olympics by an IOC commission.