Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during his annual news conference in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

Putin accuses US agencies of manipulating doping testimony

Putin said the former Moscow anti-doping laboratory director is “under the control” of the American agencies

Russian President Vladimir Putin accused U.S. agencies of manipulating evidence from the main whistleblower on doping at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Putin said Thursday that former Moscow anti-doping laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov — who is under witness protection after fleeing to the United States last year — is “under the control” of the American agencies, including the FBI.

Rodchenkov being in the United States “is not a positive for us, it’s a negative. It means he’s under the control of American special services,” Putin said. “What are they doing with him there? Are they giving him some kind of substances so that he says what’s required?”

Putin added that Rodchenkov should never have been appointed to run Moscow’s anti-doping laboratory in the first place.

“It was a mistake on the part of those who did it, and I know who did it,” he said, but didn’t name names or say they should be punished.

Related: 200 Russians to compete in Olympics as neutrals

Testimony from Rodchenkov played a key role in International Olympic Committee investigations which led last week to Russian athletes being required to compete under a neutral flag at the upcoming Pyeongchang Games.

Rodchenkov said he was ordered by the sports ministry to oversee steroid use by Russian athletes in many sports, and to cover up their doping by falsifying test results and swapping dirty samples for clean ones.

The IOC’s decision to trust Rodchenkov’s evidence is “nonsense,” Putin said, portraying the scientist as mentally unstable and referring repeatedly to Russian criminal investigations against him.

The Russian government has denied it had any involvement in doping, particularly around the Sochi Olympics, which is seen as a key prestige project.

Russian officials have previously said they accept some drug use occurred, but on a much smaller scale than alleged, and that Rodchenkov tricked some clean Russian athletes into taking banned substances by claiming they were legitimate dietary supplements.

Putin also reiterated previous claims that Russian doping scandals are an attempt to smear the government as he runs for re-election in March, a month after the Pyeongchang Olympics.

Related: Russia’s Olympic punishment stuns Canadian sport community

“The scandal is being created ahead of the domestic political calendar,” he said. “Whatever people say, I’m convinced, I just know this is the case.”

Russian sports officials and athletes across numerous sports have said they will accept the IOC demand that they compete as “Olympic Athletes from Russia.” That means they will compete in neutral-colored uniforms under the Olympic flag, with the Olympic anthem played at medal ceremonies instead of the Russian anthem.

However, the IOC says the ban could be lifted in time for Russian athletes to march at the closing ceremony under their own flag, if Russia complies with IOC conditions.

An IOC commission found no evidence that Russia’s “highest state authority” was involved in doping, but that sports ministry officials knew of the doping scheme.

James Ellingworth, The Associated Press

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