US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the veto a “travesty”.
Russia said the resolution was biased and would have meant taking sides in a civil war. Syria is Moscow’s rare ally in the Middle East, home to a Russian naval base and a customer for its arms. China’s veto was widely seen as following Russia’s lead.
Washington’s UN ambassador Susan Rice said she was “disgusted” by Russia and China’s vetoes, and “any further bloodshed that flows will be on their hands”.
France’s Alain Juppe said they “carried a terrible responsibility in the eyes of the world and Syrian people”. All 13 other members of the Security Council backed the resolution.
Western criticism was echoed in the Middle East, where Arab powers such as Saudi Arabia and non-Arab Turkey have turned decisively against Mr Assad in recent months.
“Unfortunately, yesterday in the UN, the Cold War logic continues,” said Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu. “Russia and China did not vote based on the existing realities but more a reflexive attitude against the West.”
The Security Council’s sole Arab member, Morocco, voiced “great regret and disappointment” at the veto.
Burhan Ghalioun, head of the opposition umbrella Syrian National Council, called Moscow and Beijing’s veto “a new licence to kill from these two capitals for Assad and his criminal regime”.