The Kremlin accused the U.S. government on Friday of pushing for Russia’s exclusion from the Olympics.
A day after Russian President Vladimir Putin said the IOC was coming under pressure from the U.S., his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin meant “state (structures), including through social and non-government organizations.”
Putin said the effort aimed to ensure Russia was either barred from next year’s Winter Olympics entirely or forced to compete under a neutral flag.
In televised comments on Thursday, Putin said the IOC depended on sponsorship income “and in turn clear signals are being given to these sponsors by certain American bodies. We aren’t simply guessing about this, we know about it.”
Missing the Olympics or competing as neutrals would be “degrading” for Russia, Putin added, and suggested it might be meant to interfere in the Russian presidential election in March. Putin is widely expected to run for re-election but has yet to confirm that.
“If someone thinks that in this way they can influence the election campaign in Russia in the spring of next year, then they are deeply confused,” Putin said.
Russia is already under IOC investigation over allegations it operated a state-backed doping program including swapping out dirty samples at the drug-testing laboratory for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Neither Putin nor Peskov specified which specific U.S. government bodies might be involved in the alleged pressuring of the IOC.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, a non-government body which receives part of its funding from the U.S. government, is among a group of 37 national drug-testing agencies which have called for Russia to be barred from the Olympics, which start on Feb. 9 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The IOC has said its investigators expect to have “a number” of doping cases involving Russians at the Sochi Olympics resolved by the end of November, but they have no plans to dictate the eligibility of these athletes for Pyeongchang.
Putin’s suggestion of U.S. meddling in the Russian election comes amid investigations in the U.S. into alleged interference in last year’s presidential vote. The U.S. Senate’s special panel is conducting a probe into Russian influence in the 2016 election and whether there were any links to Donald Trump’s campaign.