The World Anti-Doping Agency dealt a blow to Russia's hopes of being cleared to compete at next year's Winter Olympics by declaring it still is not complying with anti-doping mandates -- a decision which Moscow called "unfair."
WADA's Foundation Board, meeting in Seoul on November 16, approved the recommendation of its Compliance Review Committee not to reinstate Russia's anti-doping agency, RUSADA, which was suspended in 2015 amid doping allegations.
WADA's latest decision raises the possibility of a broad ban on Russian athletes at the Winter Olympics in South Korea, due to be held February 9-25. Six Russian athletes have already been banned for failing doping tests.
The International Olympic Committee is expected to decide at its December executive board meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, whether Russia and its athletes can compete in South Korea.
"This is unpleasant news," Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists in Moscow. "We do not agree with this decision. We believe it to be unfair. We denounced and continue to denounce accusations that cases of doping had some kind of state support."
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko, who headed Russia's Sports Ministry from 2008 to 2016, said WADA's decision was "expected."
Russian President Vladimir Putin and other Kremlin officials refuse to admit the existence of a state-sponsored doping system, but WADA says it has secured evidence that proves the allegation.
Aleksandr Zhukov, the head of the Russian Olympic Committee, continued to insist after WADA's November 16 decision that "Russia did not have and does not have any state-backed [doping] system."
Russia's anti-doping agency was suspended when the allegations of institutionalized doping and cover-ups first emerged in a landmark WADA report in 2015.
WADA said the most extensive evidence of a conspiracy by hundreds of Russian athletes and sports officials to cover up doping was at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, where Russia far surpassed other countries in racking up medals.
WADA found that Russia's secret service and Sports Ministry orchestrated an elaborate plot in Sochi that included using a "mouse hole" to switch drug-tainted urine samples at the doping laboratory in the Black Sea resort.
The findings led to the ban of more than 100 Russian athletes at last year's Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
But Russian leaders had held out hope this year that reforms in the nation's doping culture and institutions would lead WADA to clear Russia and its athletes to compete as a national team at the 2018 games.
The biggest stumbling block for Moscow was WADA's requirement that Russian leaders "publicly accept" the report's findings about state involvement in the doping program. Russia has maintained that only individual athletes and their coaches were responsible for doping violations.
Russian Olympic Committee head Zhukov, admitted during WADA's Seoul meeting that Russia's anti-doping system had failed. But he said officials at RUSADA and their Moscow laboratory were to blame.
He said Russian leaders will never agree to WADA's demand that they recognize a state role in doping. "It's impossible," he said.
Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov, pleading for RUSADA's reinstatement, pointed to improvements already recognized by WADA and insisted that the agency is now independent of state control.
"I guarantee RUSADA will be fully independent. It is a totally new organization," he said. "We are ready to go forward and work openly.... Please let us be compliant."
WADA partially lifted its ban on RUSADA because of progress this year, giving it the right to collect samples.
But suspicions remain. Foundation Board member Adam Pengilly asked how WADA could "trust" Russia's new anti-doping regime "until there is a real acknowledgement of what happened?"
Last week, WADA said it had obtained an "enormous" internal database of Russian drug-test results from 2012-15 that provided evidence of the state's role.
Despite WADA's refusal to reinstate Russia, it likely will not kill the chance for Russian athletes to compete at least as neutrals during next year's Olympics, sport officials said.
In 2016, the Olympic Committee ignored WADA's calls to ban Russia from Rio de Janeiro and instead left the decision on the eligibility of individual athletes to associations that govern each individual sport.
With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, and Interfax