To borrow a phrase from Barack Obama, Russia and China have the Assad regime's back and have vetoed UN resolutions that would pressure the Syrian ruler to step down. This has angered many Arab leaders who would like to see Assad's back and a different government installed in Damascus.
Russia and China have not yet changed their policy, but they are at least making an effort to persuade the Arab regimes of their good intentions, attempting to avoid the prediction made by Foreign Secretary William Hague that they will pay a price in the Arab world for their support of Assad.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with the Arab League, which is incensed over the Russian veto at the UN that had thwarted an Arab League peace plan.
Lavrov denied Western accusations, such as those by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who alleged that Russia was digging in its heels due to "major economic interests" in Syria, including arms sales or simply in revenge for what happened in Libya. Russia explained that Lavrov was acting "out of nobler motives".
"We are not protecting any regimes..We are protecting international law … We are not looking for a special prize or geopolitical interest here."
It was more important, he said, to stop the violence and provide humanitarian assistance then to impute blame. The Russian news agency RIA Novosti claimed that Lavrov and the Arab League had cobbled together a plan calling for all sides to end the violence, monitoring the situation in Syria, humanitarian aid to all Syrians, support for UN special envoy, the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and abstention from external interference in Syrian domestic affairs.
This account clashes with reports that Lavrov was criticized by Qatari Foreign Minister Jassem Al Thani, who claimed that the Arabs would not settle for just a cease-fire after Assad's systematic killing of Syrians.
In any case Annan left Syria without any deal.
China also unveiled a peace plan calling for an immediate end to violence and dialogue between the Assad regime and the opposition. It said it was sending its Deputy Foreign Minister Zhang Ming to the region to facilitate the plan. The Chinese diplomat will also consult with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and France to help build a consensus. China asserted it was taking a principled stand against foreign interference and externally launched regime change, but would support Kofi Annan's "impartial mediation" under UN auspices.