President Vladimir Putin said Thursday Russia was ready to defend the interests of athletes accused of doping in court, even though it will also cooperate with the World Anti-Doping Agency and the IOC.

Russia has been banned from next year’s Winter Olympics over state-sponsored doping but the International Olympic Committee said Russian athletes would still be able to compete under a neutral flag.

“How will we build up relations with Wada and the IOC? I hope constructively,” Putin said at his annual news conference.

“We will calmly work with them, removing those problems we do have, but of course working to defend the interests of our athletes, including in civil courts,” Putin said.

“I know that many international officials don’t want that, but what can we do? We will be forced to help our athletes to stand up for their honour and dignity in civil courts.”

Putin acknowledged that doping violations took place but claimed that the scandal was politically motivated.

“It’s obvious that the scandal is being blown up in the run-up to Russia’s domestic political calendar,” Putin said, apparently referring to March 2018 presidential elections.

“Whatever they say, I am convinced, I just know that’s the case,” Putin said.

He complained that other countries also had doping problems without prompting the same “political furore.”

Nevertheless he acknowledged Russia’s role, saying “we ourselves are guilty of this, we gave a pretext for this because incidents of the use of doping really have been identified.”