MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin called Friday for a new anti-doping commission to be created to shape Russia's future strategy, as the country faces possible exclusion from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Putin's intervention came as former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev wrote to International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach to oppose a blanket ban on the Russian team, saying that a collective sanction was "unacceptable."
Putin did not directly address allegations that Russian government officials helped to cover up hundreds of doping cases, but said the state was resolutely opposed to performance-enhancing drug use.
"In sport there is not and cannot be a place for any doping," Putin said. "Sport must be clean, and an athlete's health must be properly protected."
He added there was a need to "cooperate closely" on doping with the International Olympic Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency, the latter of which welcomed Thursday's court ruling to uphold a ban on Russia's scandal-hit track and field team.
Putin told a meeting of Russia's cabinet that the commission, under the direction of the Russian Olympic Committee, would provide "rapid development and tough control for the effective realization of a national plan on the fight against doping."
He added that the commission would be "independent" and would include Russians and foreigners in the fields of medicine, law and sports administration. He did not give a timescale for the commission to begin its work.
Putin proposed 81-year-old Vitaly Smirnov, an honorary member of the International Olympic Committee member and a veteran of Russian and Soviet sports administration, to lead the panel.
"Such a commission should be headed by a person with an absolutely unimpeachable reputation, who has the trust and respect of the Olympic family," Putin said. "There is such a person in our country and he is Vitaly Georgievich Smirnov."
Smirnov once served as the Soviet Union's deputy sports minister and helped to organize the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.
Smirnov, a former IOC vice president, was among five IOC members given a "serious warning" in 1999 for their role in the Salt Lake City bid scandal. A total of 10 members resigned or were expelled for receiving cash, gifts and other improper inducements during the city's winning bid for the 2002 Winter Games.
Smirnov suggested in televised comments that the Russian doping scandal was a series of "misunderstandings," and said the new commission would aim to eradicate performance-enhancing drug use from sport entirely. "We will work to eliminate the problem," he said.
In a rare intervention on sports matters, the 85-year-old Gorbachev wrote an open letter to Bach, saying a ban on the whole Russian team would unfairly punish clean athletes.
"I am worried and deeply upset by the possibility that in the case of a ban on Russian athletes competing in the Olympics, the innocent will be punished along with the guilty," he wrote in the letter, published on his website. "For me the principle of collective punishment is unacceptable."