The crusade to punish Russia for its long embrace of doping is righteous.

This crusade has nothing to do with global politics. Please, pay no attention to the ever-creepy Vladimir Putin. This crusade is not payback for Russia’s cyber manipulation of the 2016 election struggle between Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton.

This crusade has everything to do with defending the clean Olympic athlete who says no to becoming a pharmaceutical freak.

In early December, the International Olympic Committee will determine Russia’s fate for the February 2018 Olympics in South Korea. Yes, this determination will come too late.

Russia should have been banned at least six months ago.

But it’s not too late for a strong statement. Russia should be banished from the Olympics even as a path to South Korea is paved for the few Russian athletes who can prove they are clean.  

Russia utilized a complicated and, in an evil way, ingenious method to boost the nation’s athletes and temporarily evade the detection of doping. Russian scientists traded dirty urine samples for clean samples, and they did this trading hundreds of times. This trading has been confirmed by four different reports.

Let’s be clear: Russians cheated their way to Olympic medals. They were busted. Now they must be punished. 

Travis Tygart has served as CEO of the Colorado Springs-based U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) for 10 years. He’s a gregarious soccer dad in his free time, but he’s a fierce advocate for clean athletes. He led a noble struggle to expose former American hero Lance Armstrong as a doping cheater.

He supports the crusade to punish Russia.

“You have to send a message,” Tygart said Monday. “What’s really important is when you’re caught red handed, violating the rules, you can’t just be given a get-out-of-jail-free card. That would send a message that it’s OK and then it would be necessary for every other country to cheat their way to the top.

“Look, if we’re holding our athletes to the highest standards, the worst thing that can happen to them is if they compete against athletes who aren’t being held to any standards. If the system doesn’t have your back as a clean athlete, either you have to leave the sport or join the cheaters.”

The cheating was rampant. The McLaren Report, released in late 2016, revealed the performances of more than 1,000 Russian athletes were boosted by state-sponsored doping between 2012-2015.

The cheating techniques were sometimes simple. For instance: Russian officials used table salt and Nescafe coffee crystals to trick drug testers.

If Russia accepted guilt and showed repentance, along with real change, the IOC would have reason to show mercy.

But we’re talking about a Russia led by Putin, a man who appears unable to utter the words, “I’m sorry.” Putin, being Putin, seeks to blur his nation’s guilt with sneaky, smoky methods.

In March, Putin sought to deny the reality of, well, reality.

"In Russia we never had, don't have, and I hope won't have a state-sponsored doping program. On the contrary, there will only be a fight against doping," Putin announced while visiting Siberia. Interestingly enough, no one in the audience started laughing after his announcement.

Last week, Putin turned up his smoke machine.

The international community, Putin said, seeks to punish Russia by using doping scandals to discredit his government and influence the country's presidential election in March.

"In response to our supposed interference in their elections, they want to cause problems in the Russian presidential election," Putin said.

Fortunately, no clear-thinking American would ever trust a word spoken by former KGB colonel Putin, except for – maybe – the following words:  “the” “and” “but.”

Tygart laughed as he considered Putin’s defense strategy. It was a pained laugh.

“The common currency of the guilty is the denial,” Tygart said. “If you’re willing to cheat sport, you’re willing to lie about your cheating in sport. You’re living in The Twilight Zone if you’re unwilling to acknowledge the evidence and the conclusions based on that evidence.”

I feel sympathy for elite Russian athletes caught in the doping trap. For them, saying no to doping meant saying no to a powerful and cruel government. These athletes are victims, but they can’t be allowed to compete.

The Olympics serve as a beacon to the world, and clean athletes are a requirement for the light to truly shine.

A still-defiant Russia must be punished.