The central principle the Russians cite for opposing any outside intervention in Syria is sovereignty, the supreme authority of each state to determine affairs on its own territory.
Along with the sometimes contradictory right of each nation to self-determination, sovereignty is the core principle of international law, enshrined in the UN Charter. The Russians argue that, for all its flaws, the inviolability of each state's control over its own affairs is the only thing standing in the way of neo-imperialist domination by strong states over weaker ones.
In Syria, they argue, Western nations are pursuing their own geopolitical interests under the guise of a humanitarian "right to protect" which supposedly trumps the country's sovereignty. Moscow sees it as its duty to block such attempts.
But Russia's concern for sovereignty doesn't extend to its own dealings with post-Soviet neighbors. In 2008, after defeating Georgia in a brief war, Moscow recognized the independence of two Georgian breakaway territories, Abkhazia and S. Ossetia, thus effectively dismembering a sovereign state against its will.
Some experts say the Kremlin's basic fear is that any precedent that licenses outside force to change the regime in a strife-ridden country like Syria might one day be used as an argument in favor of foreign intervention in Russia. With tens of thousands of anti-Kremlin protesters rallying in Moscow streets in recent months, that may not be just an academic concern.