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Mr. Putin was - and is - deeply mistrustful of the United States. Moreover, he does not welcome any precedent that might lead to sanctions against him - perhaps over atrocities committed against Islamist guerrillas in the North Caucasus or violations of human rights. Also, Mr. Putin views China as Russia’s ally of the future. Denouncing the West may help attract the East.

Mr. Medvedev, on the other hand, represents those Russians who yearn for Western acceptance and are betting their future on high-tech modernization, foreign investment and some liberalization. Thus, the Libya spat reflects not only a political competition between the two contenders for 2012 Russian presidency, but also a century-and-a-half-long conflict between “Westernizers” and “Slavophiles,” who view Russia’s future in diametrically opposing ways.

Ariel Cohen is a fellow in Russian and Eurasian studies at the Heritage Foundation (