Russian president Vladimir Putin has attacked the ban on his country from the Rio de Janeiro Paralympics as immoral and inhumane.
Russia was suspended on August 7 over what International Paralympic Committee president Philip Craven called a “medals over morals” culture with evidence of state-sponsored doping. The ban was confirmed when the Court of Arbitration of Sport rejected a Russian appeal.
“The decision to disqualify our Paralympians is outside the bounds of law, morality and humanity,” Mr Putin said at an award ceremony for Olympic athletes at the Kremlin.
He called the ruling against Russia “cynical” and claimed that “it even humiliates those who take such decisions”.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova added to the criticism, calling the ban “collective responsibility for an unproven crime”.
While Russia has accepted there were some shortcomings in its anti-doping system, it insists drug use was not systemic or supported by the government.
The Paralympics start on September 7.
Special competitions will be organised in Russia for banned Paralympic athletes, with winners getting the same prizes they would have received for success in Rio, Mr Putin said.
Russia awards cash prizes to Olympic and Paralympic medallists and gave out dozens of BMW luxury cars to its Olympic medallists on Thursday.
Mr Putin also attacked what he said was the political manipulation of sport directed against Russia, whose team was reduced to a single athlete in track and field and banned entirely from weightlifting at the Olympics. Of 389 athletes submitted, 278 were cleared to compete.
That came after World Anti-Doping Agency investigations detailed widespread doping and evidence that senior sports ministry officials allegedly covered up hundreds of doping cases.
“You came through a tough test with honour,” Mr Putin told a room full of Olympic gold medallists.
“We know how difficult it was for our athletes in Rio. Ahead of the competition, the team was cut by almost a third, and was deprived of the chance to show what it can do in sports where Russia is traditionally considered one of the favourites. But our team, you, my friends, coped with all the difficulties, competed as a united team.”
Russia was fourth in the medal count with 56 medals — 19 gold, 18 silver, and 19 bronze.
Earlier, sports minister Vitaly Mutko appeared to cast doubt on the achievements of second-placed Britain, suggesting it had won medals in Rio thanks to its lobbying power.
“Look at the comparative growth in results of some countries, such as Britain. I don’t want to accuse them of anything,” he said in comments reported by the state R-Sport agency. “And look at the leadership of all the sports institutions. There are only British and Canadians there.”
Britain won 67 medals, with 27 golds, in its best performance for more than a century.