Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview released today that his Russian ally has "never" discussed a political transition with him, despite international support for such a process. Speaking to NBC News in Damascus, the embattled leader insisted his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had never raised the issue of his departure or a political transition with him. "Only the Syrian people define who's going to be the president, when to come, and when to go. They never said a single word regarding this," he said. His comments came as US Secretary of State John Kerry headed back to Moscow for new meetings with Putin to discuss the situation in Syria, where a devastating five-year civil war has killed more than 280,000 people. Russia and the United States are nominally co-chairs of international efforts to bring Assad's regime to the negotiating table with armed opposition groups. Hopes for the existing peace process rest on the UN-backed blueprint sketched out by the 22-nation, US and Russian-led International Syria Support Group. Under this road map, signed by both Syria's ally Iran and Assad's pro-rebel foe Saudi Arabia, a nationwide ceasefire will precede Geneva-based talks on "political transition." But there has been little progress towards a resumption of political talks that was scheduled for August 1. A close ally of the government in Damascus, Russia has intervened directly in the conflict since October 2015, when it began air strikes in support of regime forces.