Moscow - President Vladimir Putin told Russian Olympic athletes on Wednesday that he was sorry his government had not protected them from the fallout of a doping scandal.
Speaking to athletes set to take part in the Pyeongchang Games, the Kremlin leader also denounced as "strange" the exclusion of many Russian athletes from the upcoming Winter Olympics over doping.
"Forgive us for not having been able to shield you from this," Putin said, adding that the scandal had contributed to "very difficult conditions" for athletes.
The International Olympic Committee banned Russia from the 2018 Olympics after a report on a vast, Moscow-backed doping scheme in previous Games.
Only 169 of Russia's athletes have been allowed to take part in the Games under a neutral flag as an "Olympic Athlete from Russia".
"For us certain things are truly strange," Putin said in televised remarks.
"I wish you luck," Putin said, adding he wanted them to be "courageous".
"Hundreds of thousands, millions of fans who love you are watching you," he added.
He reiterated his pledge to support those who could not take part in next month's Games.
The 23rd Winter Olympics will open in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on February 9, featuring 102 events in 15 sports and athletes from all over the world.