In the newest issue of Foreign Policy there's a piece by Susan B. Glasser profiling Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, and I think it offers more confirmation on what we already know: fundamentally those who have bought in to the post-Rwandan Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine--from Samantha Power and Susan Rice to Barack Obama and David Cameron--will continue to find themselves at odds with Russia because of a core, and historic, difference in worldview.
When we met, I asked Lavrov about why the Americans kept thinking they would change his position on Syria, coming back to him again and again with new proposals that he promptly rebuffed. After a few sentences of reflection, he pulled a small white piece of paper out of his pocket. It was a quote from Alexander Gorchakov that he had brought expressly to share with me. "Foreign intervention into the domestic matters is unacceptable," he read. "It is unacceptable to use force in international relations, especially by the countries who consider themselves leaders of civilization."Whereas R2P empowers and even demands that the international community actively prevent man-made humanitarian tragedies like the genocide in Rwanda domestic non-interference, of the type espoused by security council members Russia and China, categorically reject this concept. The fear, at least abstractly, is that what starts as an intervention about humanitarian concerns in Benghazi can end up in Moscow or Beijing. Ironically, the US has refused to be bound by international laws and regulations from the Kyoto Protocols to the ICC, mostly based on fiercely independent principles that aren't all that dissimilar to Russia's unwillingness to open herself to a potential compromise or challenge by outsiders. However, that has not stopped the United States from using its power and influence to participate and lead the interventionist charge.
Of course, while Libya was a recent example of a situation which saw R2P in action, Syria has proven to be an even more complex manifestation of the circumstances which justify this "responsibility." While Glasser's piece, titled "Minister No," hints at a long history of Russia saying "No" to Western demands, particularly in matters as principled as foreign intervention, it also paints the picture of a foreign policy structured to be pragmatic as well. Indeed, Russia's abstention on the no-fly zone in Libya, which quickly became something else entirely, may have been somewhat of a pragmatic approach to the intricacies of the Arab Spring in 2011 rather than pure ideology.
What may have happened was that Russia, through turning a blind-eye towards intervention in Libya (a state that was significantly lower in importance to her than Syria) thought that she could create a circumstance where the West might be occupied in a conflict that would give Assad enough time to quell his rebellion. In effect, allow one intervention to occur to prevent a conversation about another much more important one. If this was the case, it was obviously a severe misjudgment. Instead, the result has been that the West having now had their cookie--Libya--continues to try and nibble at Russia's cake--Syria.