The Cable

Putin Tells Washington ‘Nyet’ On New Doping Probe

Putin's spokesperson says Russian athletes out of U.S. law enforcement's reach.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has a message for the U.S. Justice Department, which is reportedly investigating his country’s athletes for state-sponsored doping in the Sochi Winter Olympics: Your laws don’t apply to us.

“We treat with notable skepticism and a notable degree of misunderstanding and rejection the cases of the ex-territorial application of the jurisdiction of U.S. courts that have become quite widespread lately,” Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday, according to Russian state media.

Peskov was responding to questions regarding a New York Times report that the United States attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York has launched an inquiry into Russian government officials, athletes, coaches, anti-doping authorities and anyone else who benefited from drugs banned by world sports authorities during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. One third of Russia’s 33 medals were awarded to athletes suspected of doping, according to the Times. The United States has the power to investigate foreigners living abroad if there is some connection to the U.S.; if they have a banking account in the U.S., for instance, or if they participated in an event here, like the Boston Marathon.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office would not confirm or deny the existence of the inquiry. But the New York Times article comes after a World Anti-Doping Agency report in November accused Russia of state-sponsored doping. Grigory Rodchenkov, the longtime chief of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory who has been identified as the ringleader in that operation, then told the Times this month that he had worked for years, under the supervision of the Putin’s government, to hide athletes’ use of banned performance-enhancing substances while competing.

Since the revelations were made public, Russian officials have acted with expressions both of remorse and, now, resistance. After the Times published its report on Rodchenkov, Putin’s Sports Ministry acknowledged problems with illegal drugs and athletes in a statement posted on Twitter. Then, in a May 15 op-ed published in the Sunday Times, a British newspaper, Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko pleaded with the International Olympic Committee to allow Russian athletes to compete in the coming Summer Olympics in Brazil.

“I suggest we should take guidance from a statement by Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko and we fully support this position about openness for the investigation and the intention to fight doping abuse,” Peskov said Wednesday.

In spite of these admissions from Russian officials, David Larkin, an attorney who specializes in international sports corruption, said it would be very difficult for the U.S. to actually prosecute Russians, who are under no obligation to cooperate with U.S. authorities.

“The U.S. remains desperately naive and Washington D.C. is regularly played for a fool,” Larkin told Foreign Policy. The Justice Department is also investigating corruption and graft in world football, which includes questions about whether Russia paid bribes to win the 2018 World Cup.

So even as evidence of Russian cheating in international sports mounts, Peskov might be right: those Russians responsible for doping, and the athletes who benefitted from it, might be beyond the reach of U.S. law.  

And somewhere in the Kremlin, Putin smiles.

Photo credit: MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/Getty Images

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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