"The West handles the Islamic world the way a monkey handles a grenade," Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said on Twitter.
Iran and Syria: Allies for years
Iran's support for Syria has been "unwavering," according to Karim Sadjadpour, who wrote an essay about the relationship for the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.
"Mutual contempt for Saddam Hussein's Iraq brought Syria and Iran together in 1980 and mutual fear and loathing of the United States and Israel has helped sustain their alliance," he wrote.
He noted that Syria has been Iran's "only consistent ally since the 1979 Islamic resolution" and has been a "geographic thoroughfare" to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia -- "one of the crown jewels of the Iranian revolution."
Iran is the world's most populous Shiite Muslim nation and is led by Shiite religious authorities. The Syrian government is dominated by Alawites, a Shiite offshoot, and the rebels are dominated by Sunnis.
"Iranian motivations in keeping the al-Assad regime in power are also driven by deep concerns about the composition of a post-Assad government. Given Syria's overwhelming Sunni Arab demographic majority, Iran fears the prospect of Syria being rendered a Sunni sectarian regime aligned with Saudi Arabia or the United States and hostile to Shi`a Iran," Sadjadpour said.
What happens if the regime "loses Damascus"? Should Iran "preserve a sphere of influence by supporting a predominantly Alawite militia representing only a small fraction of Syrian society, or to befriend the Sunni rebels poised to wield authority in Damascus?"
"Contrary to conventional wisdom, what is most important for Iran is not the sectarian composition of Syria's future leaders, but a like-minded ideological worldview premised on resistance to the United States and Israel," Sadjadpour wrote.