The Kremlin has vowed to defend Russian athletes who have been stripped of their Olympic medals, as Moscow continues to grapple with the fallout from a state-sponsored doping program documented by global investigators.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the comments on November 27, as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) this month canceled the results for 19 Russian athletes who competed in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, including many medalists, and banned them from future games because of doping violations.
"The main thing is to persistently and energetically take all possible measures to protect our legitimate interests and the legitimate interests of our athletes together with international sports organizations," Peskov told reporters during a conference call.
"One can hardly steal a victory that has already been won, especially a victory that will forever stay with our hero athletes," he added.
His comments also came ahead of an IOC meeting next week to decide whether Russian competitors should be allowed to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, which begin in February
An independent report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) said in December 2016 that more than 1,000 Russian athletes, including Olympic medalists, benefited from a program involving security agents and laboratory workers to conceal positive doping tests.
The report said more than 30 sports were involved in the systematic cover-up, which it said dated back until at least 2011 and continued after the Sochi Games.
As a result, the IOC has stripped Russia of more than 10 medals, including golds, from the 2014 Olympics following doping violations. The country has lost its place among the top three counties on the medals table and is now ranked sixth.
Gold medal-winning bobsledders Dmitry Trunenkov and Aleksei Negodailo, as well as biathlon relay silver medalists Yana Romanova and Olga Vilukhina, were the latest to be sanctioned on November 27.
Russian officials have denied the existence of a state-sponsored doping program, and sports authorities pledged to appeal the IOC rulings and take their case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
In an interview published on November 23, Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko, who was previously Russia's sports minister, said his country was the victim of attempted "brainwashing."
Mutko also deflected blame from Russia, saying the IOC and global anti-doping regulators failed in their "responsibilities" to keep the games clean.
With reporting by TASS and Reuters