By Duncan Mackay

Valentin BelentchinApril 8 - Russia should not be singled out unfairly as having a major doping problem despite several high-profile cases involving its top athletes, it was claimed today by the head of the country's athletics federation.

Last week former world and Olympic champions Svetlana Krivelyova and Olga Kuzenkova were both banned for two years each for failing drugs tests after their samples were re-examined.

They are two of nearly 40 Russian athletes currently serving doping bans.

But Valentin Balakhnichev (pictured top), President of the All-Russian Athletic Federation, has defended his country's record.

"Three years ago the national anti-doping agency Rusada was created to keep the use of drugs in sports under control," Balakhnichev told the news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP).

"It changed the situation radically as the Russian Sports Ministry upgraded the technical equipment of Moscow's anti-doping laboratory up to the highest modern standards and increased the level of its staff's skills.

"Now it is paying off, as the laboratory is not only testing but also regularly working out new methods of analysis that are currently used worldwide."

Tatyana Kotova at Osaka 2007Tatyana Kotova is one of several Russian athletes banned for drugs after their samples were re-tested several years after they were originally taken

A brighter spotlight has been shone on Russia's problems because Moscow is due to host this year's International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships.

"In Soviet times, children's and youth sports schools were in charge of educational work with young athletes together with the country's youth public organisations," said Balakhnichev.

"After the fall of the Soviet Union we lost the moral standards that prevented the athletes from cheating."

Much of the criticism has been led by British officials, including UK Athletics' head coach Peter Eriksson, who claimed earlier this year "they need to do work within the Russian system to find out what's going on".

Jade Johnson, the 2002 Commonwealth Games long jump silver medallist, even went as far to claim that Moscow should be stripped of the World Championships because of the doping problem.

Johnson was upset that Tatyana Kotova, who had beaten her to the 2002 European title in Munich, was subsequently banned for doping. 

Like many Russian athletes Kotova was banned following a re-test of samples taken several years earlier, in her case at the World Championships in Helsinki in 2005, when she had originally finished second.

But Balakhnichev, the treasurer of the IAAF, hit back angrily at the British claims. 

"I think we all should withdraw from issuing any labels," he told AFP.

"The British coaches and athletes should better watch closely what's going on closer to home."

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