Vladimir Putin suggested Thursday that the United States could be attempting to interfere with Russia's 2018 presidential election through recent allegations of sports doping by Olympic athletes, as reported by the Associated Press.
The International Olympic Committee revealed earlier in the day that four Russian cross-country skiers had been found guilty of doping at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, bringing the recent running total of Russians banned from future Olympic Games to six. At least 20 more cases are to be heard, the AP added, but Putin isn't focused on the cheating athletes as much as he is America's alleged attempts "to use doping scandals to discredit his government and influence the country's presidential election in March."
"In response to our supposed interference in their elections, they want to cause problems in the Russian presidential election," Putin said, according to comments reported by Russian news agencies via the AP.
As some of the skiers reportedly prepare to receive legal assistance in efforts to appeal their punishment, Putin has not explicitly discussed their wrongdoings, instead "disputing" the bans as maneuvers related to American interference.
Putin did not mention the skiers by name Thursday but said his government had never supported or covered up doping. He is widely expected to run for re-election next March but has yet to confirm that.