Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday denied propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and stressed that Moscow was only seeking to avert a perpetual civil war.
"What is our position? Not to leave Assad's regime in power at any price, but to first (let the Syrians) agree among themselves how they should live next," Putin told a major Moscow press briefing.
"Only then should we start looking at ways to change the existing order."
Putin argued that Russia's call for dialogue was meant to avert "an endless civil war" between the armed rebels and government forces who still control most of the capital Damascus.
"We want to avoid (Syrian) disintegration," said Putin.
Putin's comments came less than a week after Russia's chief Middle East envoy said it appeared that Assad would not be able to fend off the rebels much longer.
The foreign ministry later denied an official shift in Russia's position toward Assad and noted that Moscow still recognised the Assad regime.
Russia remains one of Syrian regime's last major ally and has shielded Assad from UN sanctions aimed at punishing him for his use of heavy force against rebels.