Opinion polls show Vladimir Putin is already a shoo-in to win a fourth presidential term. But a ban on Russia taking part in the Winter Olympics is likely to make support for him even stronger, by uniting voters around his message: The world is against us.
Putin, who has dominated Russia's political landscape for the last 17 years, declared Wednesday that
With ties between the Kremlin and the West at their lowest point for years, the International Olympic Committee's decision to bar Russia from the 2018 Pyeongchang Games over doping is seen in Moscow as a humiliating and politically tinged act.
Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the upper house of parliament's foreign affairs committee, was among the first to cast the move as part of a dark Western plot against his country, which sees sport as a barometer of geopolitical clout.
"There can be no doubt that this is part of the West's overall policy of holding Russia back," Kosachyov wrote on social media. "They are targeting our national honor ... our reputation ... and our interests. They (the West) bought out the traitors ... and orchestrated media hysteria."
The IOC ruling is also seen by many in Russia as a personal affront to Putin, who was re-elected president in 2012 after spending four years as prime minister because the constitution barred him from a third consecutive term as head of state.
The sport-loving leader cast his hosting of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, at which the IOC says there was "unprecedented systematic manipulation" of the anti-doping system, as a symbol of RussiaΓÇÖs success under his rule.
But Putin has often extracted political benefit from crises, and turned international setbacks into domestic triumphs, by accusing the West of gunning for Russia and using this to inspire Russians to unite.