Russian President Vladimir Putin says the government will not prevent Russian athletes from competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics under the Olympic flag.
"Without any doubt we will not declare any kind of blockade," Putin said in televised remarks on December 6. "We will not block our Olympians from taking part, if any of them wish to take part as individuals.
He made the comments the day after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that it has banned Russia from the February Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, after finding evidence of an "unprecedented systematic manipulation" of the Olympic anti-doping system.
Individual Russians will be allowed to compete as "Olympic Athletes from Russia" -- or OAR -- if they satisfy strict conditions meant to ensure that they have a doping-free background.
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If they were to win, the Olympic flag would be raised and the Olympic anthem played to honor their victories.
The IOC decision followed a conclusion that members of the Russian government came up with a system aimed to ensure Russian competitors could dope at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, without getting caught.
The lead IOC investigator said the doping scheme "caused unprecedented damage to Olympism and to sports."
The ruling includes a ban at the Pyeongchang games on any sign of the Russian Olympic Committee or any member of the Russian Sports Ministry, which the IOC said was responsible for the elaborate scheme of "manipulation and cheating" at Sochi.
Speaking after a speech in Nizhny Novgorod in which he announced he would seek a new six-year term in the March 2018 election, Putin called the IOC ruling an unfair "collective punishment."
"It all looks like an absolutely orchestrated and politically motivated decision," the Russian president said. "We see this. For me, there are no doubts about this."
He also said repeated denials that Russia had a state-sponsored doping program, despite the thorough evidence documented by the IOC and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
Putin has said that it would be humiliating for Russia to compete without its national symbols, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters a day before the IOC ruling that a Russian boycott of the 2018 Winter Olympics was "not being discussed."
Speaking to TV reporters after the decision in Lausanne, Switzerland, Russian Olympic Committee President Aleksandr Zhukov, who was suspended from his IOC membership, voiced satisfaction that the word "Russia" would be used in reference to athletes under the OAR formula.
"They'll be called Russian athletes and not some kind of neutrals...that's very important," Zhukov said.
"We are against the infringement of our athletes' rights, the unjustifiable infringement of rights. But at the same time, Russia remains committed to the ideals of Olympism," he said on December 4.
Putin suggested in November that the doping allegations were part of a U.S. campaign to influence the Russian election, which takes place about a month after the Olympics. Analysts said the allegation appeared to be an attempt to rally domestic support.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova made similar remarks on December 6 in response to the IOC decision, saying Moscow sees "a bigger picture of an aggressive campaign against the Russian Federation on the whole range of issues."