MOSCOW: Russia insisted Saturday it was not "clinging" to any individual leaders in Syria despite Moscow's refusal to back international calls on President Bashar Assad to step down.
"We are not clinging to any political figures," Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said in brief comments reaffirming the country's official position.
"And anyone who claims otherwise is distorting the picture," Gatilov told the Interfax news agency.
Yet he also signalled that Russia would block any new U.N. Security Council efforts to put pressure on Assad after 17 months of violence that activists say has claimed more than 27,000 lives.
"It is only through the political process -- and not through any decision of the UN Security Council -- that the Syrians should determine the future of their state and its make-up," he added.
Russia and China jointly vetoed three rounds of sanctions against Assad after having earlier effectively giving the go-ahead to an air campaign on Libya that they strongly opposed.
Both countries said they were tricked into the Libya decision and vowed to fight for a political solution to the Syria crisis despite growing diplomatic pressure.
Gatilov said Russia would respect any decision on Assad's future reached by the Syrians themselves.
"We will respect any agreements reached in the course of this (internal Syrian) dialogue," said the diplomat.