MOSCOW - Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Russia must "do everything" to eradicate doping, ordering an inquiry into allegations of major drug abuse in athletics that have left the country facing international isolation.
Moscow is scrambling to respond to the bombshell World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report, which outlined systematic doping in Russian athletics, declaring that a foreign specialist could take over its discredited testing laboratory.
The athletics world governing body has given Russia until Friday to come up with answers to the allegations, and with the deadline looming Putin met sports chiefs in Sochi, the Black Sea home of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The stakes could not be higher for Russia, which risks being excluded from the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio over damning allegations of corruption and "state-sponsored" doping.
"We must do everything in Russia to rid ourselves of this problem," Putin said in footage shown on Russian television of the meeting - ironically called to discuss the country's preparations for Rio 2016.
"We must carry out our own internal inquiry," he said, telling sports officials to show "the most open and professional cooperation with international anti-doping authorities".
"This problem does not exist only in Russia, but if our foreign colleagues have questions, we must answer them," he said.
It is the first time Putin, an avid sportsman, has commented publicly on the charges levelled by an independent commission chaired by WADA's Dick Pound, which rocked the flagship Olympics sport.
He echoed a plea by Russia's Olympic Committee not to sacrifice the dreams of clean competitors, saying there should not be collective punishment.
"If someone breaks the rules on doping, the responsibility should be individual," the Kremlin leader said.
"Athletes who have never touched doping should not pay for those who have transgressed." As the doping storm has developed during the week, Russian officials have given conflicting responses.
The Kremlin on Tuesday dismissed WADA's allegations as "groundless" but 24 hours later a high-ranking sports official conceded that doping was an issue.
"We are conscious of the problem that we've got. We've got a problem with doping," Mikhail Butov, the Russian athletics federation's secretary general, admitted to the BBC.
Butov's opinion carries weight, as he is one of the 27 council members of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) that will meet on Friday to discuss whether to ban Russia from next year's Olympics.
Russia, accused by WADA of "sabotaging" the last Olympic Games, finished fourth in the medals table at London 2012.
But ahead of the meeting in Sochi, Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko suggested the doping furore could have been aimed at tarnishing the country's image.
Earlier Mutko said he was open to the possibility of an overseas successor to Grigory Rodchenkov, the disgraced director of Moscow's suspended anti-doping laboratory, who according to WADA deliberately destroyed almost 1,500 samples.
As a result of the laboratory being stripped of its accreditation, swimming's governing body FINA announced it had moved all the samples taken at this year's world championships in Russia to a WADA-approved lab in Barcelona.
The crisis engulfing athletics comes hot on the heels of a massive corruption scandal at world football's top body FIFA and as cycling is still recovering from the Lance Armstrong doping scandal On Wednesday shamed former IAAF president Lamine Diack, 82, who is facing corruption charges, resigned from his position on the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Olympic chief Thomas Bach, in his first reaction to WADA's findings, said the report was "sad and shocking", pointing to allegations that some officials demanded vast sums of money to hush up positive dope tests.
"I would never have imagined that in an international federation, money would be solicited from athletes to manipulate results," said the International Olympic Committee president.
Fears were growing that the scandal could widen to include other countries and other sports, as WADA suggested in its report.
Andrey Baranov, a Russian sports agent who sparked the global investigation into athletics doping, called for the sport's authorities to also look at other countries.
He told Britain's Guardian newspaper: "It is wrong just to be focusing on Russia. There should be a similar investigation into countries like Kenya and Ethiopia too.
"Their top athletes are earning far more than the Russians. Yet their levels of testing are very limited." The German TV documentary that triggered the WADA investigation claimed that a third of the 146 world and Olympic medals awarded between 2001 and the 2012 London Olympics were tainted by suspicions of doping.
The IOC, however, said it did not believe there was any problem with drugs results from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, carried out at a WADA-accredited laboratory.