(Reuters) -The Kremlin said on Wednesday that the International Olympic Committee's guidelines that allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in international competitions as neutrals contain "elements of discrimination".
Athletes from Russia and Belarus, Moscow's ally, were banned from most international competitions last year over the Ukraine war, but guidelines issued by the Lausanne-based IOC on Tuesday seek to allow for their gradual return to world sport.
The guidelines have infuriated Russian authorities, however, who say any move to deprive athletes of their national symbols is discriminatory.
"Such recommendations were characterized as containing elements of discrimination, which is unacceptable," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.
"We will continue to defend the interests of our athletes in every possible way."
IOC President Thomas Bach said on Tuesday that it would be up to international sports federations to decide which athletes from Russia and Belarus can compete as neutrals, meaning without their national flag or country's anthem.
According to the guidelines, athletes from Russia and Belarus cannot take part in team events and must have a proven drugs testing record, while athletes who support the war or are contracted to their countries' military or national security agency are excluded.
The recommendations made by the IOC executive board concern the return of athletes to international competitions but not specifically the 2024 Paris Olympics, for which a separate decision will be taken at a later date.
Ukraine and some of its allies have threatened to boycott the Paris Games should they compete, even as neutrals.
(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Christina Fincher)