To be sure, the Kremlin appears to prefer the status quo in the Arab world. It has displayed deep suspicion of the popular movements that aim to unseat authoritarian regimes. Mr. Putin worried aloud recently that the revolutionary contagion could spread to Russia's own 20 percent Muslim minority, especially the insurgency-plagued northern Caucasus.
"Regardless of the calming theories that radical groups coming to power in northern Africa is unlikely, if it happens it cannot but spread to other areas of the world, including the north Caucasus," he said.
Moscow, which has $4 billion in outstanding arms contracts with Libya, reluctantly agreed to back sanctions against Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi but is against plans to actively prevent him from deploying air power against rebel groups.
"A ban on the national air force or civil aviation to fly over their own territory is still a serious interference into the domestic affairs of another country," Russia's ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said this week.
Britain and France are pushing for the United Nations to establish a no-fly zone over Libya, and as bloodshed escalates there the US appears to be giving more consideration to the option. Any UN Security Council authorization, however, would require support from Russia, a veto-holding member.