The “No” vote in the UN Security Council on the draft resolution condemning the use of force against the civilian population in Syria marked a significant shift in Russia’s position towards the turmoil that has engulfed North Africa and the Middle East since the start of the year.
Libya certainly constitutes a particular case in the “arc of revolutions” that now stretches from Morocco to Iraq, and there is more to the Russian position than merely diplomatic maneuvering and the deepening estrangement between the two co-rulers.
The course that combines a determined counter-revolutionary position, a pronounced disapproval of Western interference, and an attempt to befriend the rising Islamic forces is by no means straight, and Russia has few assets to work with. Instead of playing the role of an ambivalent but value-adding partner for the US, Moscow might find itself playing second fiddle to the Chinese diplomatic and economic offensive in the Middle East. This choice of partners, which also includes Turkey and might involve closer ties with Iran, is influenced not by opportunism, which is certainly a feature of Russia’s foreign policy, but by the nature of its regime. Putin has no doubt that the West would applaud his departure from the political arena (which is not in his plans), and Medvedev has good reasons to suspect that Western support for his modernization plans aims at a deep upgrade of the soft-authoritarian system of power, involving quite possibly easing him out. The Anti-Western attitude is therefore as organic to the entrenched Putinism as is counter-revolutionary zeal, and pragmatism is often over-ruled by their combined impact.