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Putin says Russian Federation won't prevent athletes from competing in Pyeongchang

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The IOC and its President Thomas Bach are banking on the Olympic Truce holding for Pyeongchang 2018

"We will definitely not be announcing any sort of blockades and will not be impeding the participation of our athletes [in the Games] if they decide to take part in the Olympics under the neutral status", Putin said.

The International Olympic Committee on Tuesday banned Russia from the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea over a state-orchestrated doping programme, saying clean Russian athletes would be allowed to compete under the Olympic flag.

South Korea's sports ministry said on Thursday that the ban on Russia participation is "regrettable", and urged Russian athletes to take part.

Asked if it's a "done deal" that USA athletes will be able to attend the Olympics, Haley said: "There's an open question".

He also argued that the International Olympic Committee decision on Tuesday to ban the Russian Federation team from the Winter Games in South Korea for anti-doping violations at the 2014 Sochi Games had political underlining.

While the Kremlin denies the existence of any state-run doping program, Putin appeared to soften criticism of the investigation.

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At the Washington Capitals' morning skate Wednesday, Ovechkin and fellow Russian Evgeny Kuznetsov say they will cheer for the Russian athletes who choose to go to South Korea.

The IOC said Wednesday, before Haley's comments, that despite the ongoing tensions the security situation remains unchanged and there is no security threat.

The participation of USA athletes in the 2018 Olympic Games in South Korea's Pyeongchang is still an "open question" against the backdrop of the North Korea-related tensions in the region, Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said.

"I think that this excuse was not used in an honest way, to put it mildly", Putin said without elaborating.

The bans came as the result of an International Olympic Committee investigation into allegations of state-backed doping among Russian competitors and sample tampering by laboratory and security officials at Sochi. The IOC last month stripped Zubkov of two bobsleigh gold medals he won in Sochi after finding he broke anti-doping rules, a decision he's appealing.

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