One of the clearest early warning signs of Moscow’s plans are suggestions in the Russian media that the country’s opponents are planning to do the same thing, a tactic that helps to distract attention from what Russia is doing and then helps to muddy the waters once the Russian move comes.
Now, Russian commentator Yevgeny Ikhlov says, Moscow is ramping up suggestions that the West is preparing a chemical attack in the Donbas. Such suggestions, he continues, “as the experience of Syria shows, is a very bad sign” of what the Russian side itself may be planning.
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 Donbas.’”
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 Donbas 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.
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