MOSCOW, Russia - In retaliation to claims that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential vote, calling the claims unfounded, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday accused the United States of trying to interfere with Russia’s presidential campaign.
Putin claimed in his accusation - that has come a day before a possible meeting with U.S. President Trump at an economic forum in Vietnam - that the United States is pressing for the disqualification of Russian athletes at the 2018 Winter Olympics as a way of creating discontent with his tenure as president.
Earlier this month, the International Olympic Committee disqualified two Russian cross-country skiers.
With less than 100 days before the beginning of the 2018 Olympics in Pyeong Chang, South Korea, the IOC has still not made a decision about whether to let Russia participate.
Addressing workers at a Ural Mountains factory, Russian news agencies quoted Putin as saying, “What worries me is that the Olympic Games are due to start in February, and when is our presidential election? In March. There are very strong suspicions that all that is done because someone needs to create an atmosphere of discontent among sports fans and athletes over the state's alleged involvement in violations and responsibility for it.”
He said that the U.S., “wants to create problems in the Russian presidential election in response to our alleged interference in theirs.”
After the World Anti-Doping Agency dismissed 95 cases of suspected Russian doping in September, citing lack of evidence, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and 16 other national anti-doping organizations demanded Russia still be banned from next year’s Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
In 2016, Russia’s reputation as an Olympic power suffered dramatically after a report into systematic doping described a vast “institutional conspiracy” that included over 1,000 athletes in more than 30 sports, and tainted the drug-testing system at the 2012 and 2014 Olympics.
Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at Carnegie Moscow Center said the revelations of widespread doping at the Sochi Olympics dealt a blow to Putin and to Russians in general.
He added, “Many were proud about winning the most medals in the Sochi Olympics and see this victory as a symbol of national revival and return to a great power status, healing the wounds of the U.S.S.R.’s collapse. Since the victory was fake, many people turn their anger on a government that couldn't build up a sport system that would produce champions, and instead created a system of cheating.”
Gabuev said that Putin is also concerned about turnout in the March 2018 elections.
He said, “If the Americans want to interfere in the Russian elections, as Putin’s narrative suggests, then going to the polls is an act of patriotic war against the aggressor. If the Americans want to steal the elections, true Russians should organize and go vote for Putin — this seems to be the hidden message of the accusations.”
Putin meanwhile implied on Thursday that the United States held undue leverage over the IOC through sponsorships, broadcasting rights and advertising.
He said, “It is a large body of ties and dependencies. And the controlling interest is in the United States, because major companies contracting and paying for television broadcasting rights, major sponsors, major advertisers are there.”
The relationship between Russia and the U.S. has suffered due to the intensifying U.S. inquiries into the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 campaign - allegations that the U.S. has called unfounded.
On Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the meeting could take place, but that details were still being worked out.
Putin, experts believe, is hoping to turn Russians anger from the Kremlin to the usual enemies in the West by making attempts to portray the doping scandal as a conspiracy of anti-Russian forces, with the U.S. in the lead.