To be sure, Ikhlov says, “the version of a future ‘chemical attack’ [by the West] is split: According to one version, the chemical attack will be carried out against Ukrainian units as a provocation; according to the other, it will be ‘against the peaceful population of the Donbass.’”
But this is easy to explain: it helps to divert attention and makes it less likely that the UN Security Council will take up the matter when and if the Russians use such weapons. And there is another plus in this regard for Moscow: a chemical provocation “of the Syrian type” would give a pretext for Moscow to send into the Donbass specialists in coping with chemical attacks.
Such actions would put Kyiv in a difficult position. All too many would be inclined to blame Ukraine rather than Russia for what would be Russia’s actions, and any Ukrainian response other than doing nothing would be invoked by Russia and its supporters as evidence that the chemical attack was part of broader Ukrainian aggression.
In short, such a “Syrian” option in Ukraine would work to Moscow’s advantage, thus making it more likely, with a singular exception: an attack of that kind could have the unintended consequence of further radicalizing Ukrainian society and leading it to mobilize fully to drive the Russians out, even if Moscow hopes that the West would work to restrain Kyiv in that regard.