Stroke by stroke, detail by detail, the most probable scenario that Moscow is really, and not ostentatiously, preparing for Ukraine appears…
Regarding the possibility of recognition of the "DNR"-"LNR" by Russia. As long as Russia has hope to get Kyiv to implement the Minsk agreements in its interpretation (that is, direct dialogue with Donetsk and Luhansk), it will not accept the "republics" recognition.
Its main goal in this war is to regain its control over Ukraine, to deprive it of its independence, or better - its statehood. The Kremlin sees "Minsk" as the main tool for this - the implantation of Donetsk and Luhansk with a "special status" into our political body, which means, in Putin-Surkov's idea, autonomy or, de facto, independence of the "republics" within the de jure unitary Ukraine.
If Kyiv agrees to this, then two scenarios are possible: either the "special" regions become the accumulator of pro-Russian forces in Ukraine and thanks to this and "special status", become an instrument of Moscow's control over Kyiv; or most of the Ukrainian regions will not want to be under Moscow and the state fracture will begin. Both are in line with Putin's goals.
Therefore, actually recognize the "DNR"-"LNR" now means for Putin to deprive himself of the main tool for achieving his main goal, since the Minsk agreements become just a part of history after such recognition.
Moscow may be interested in recognizing the "republics" in only one case - a real threat of losing the Donbas territories it currently occupies, i.e. - Ukraine's military operation to liberate its territory. It is difficult to imagine the realism of such an operation in the near future, especially now, against the backdrop of the accumulation of Russian troops on our borders. But still, the Communist Party of Russia is registering a corresponding application for consideration by the State Duma right now.
At the same time, contradictory voices are being heard from Moscow. On the one hand - Minister Lavrov's statement about the impossibility of recognizing the independence of the "republics" because they themselves "withdrew their decisions on independence" by signing the Minsk agreements. On the other hand - Peskov's elliptical statement that there is nothing to comment on, since the Duma has yet to vote for this submission. But the very fact of bringing the issue of "recognition of the republics" into the hall of the Russian "parliament" most likely means that it will be positively considered by the deputies - the opposite result simply does not fit into the logic of Russian propaganda and the Russian world ideology.
This is similar to the situation when the State Duma gave Putin permission to send troops into Ukraine in 2014. At that time, Putin was publicly given a tool, and whether he uses it or not is up to him. Now, most likely, it will be the same. The State Duma will call on Putin to "recognize", and the decision is up to him. And it certainly will not be fast.
But why does the Kremlin need such a tool right now? The first thing that comes to mind is to put pressure on the USA and the West, in order to force them to force Kyiv to comply with the Minsk agreements in the interpretation of Russia. That is, to exchange the threat of a major war in Europe for "Kyiv's implementation of the Minsk agreements". Lavrov, indeed, talks about this in almost all his meetings with Western diplomats. Moreover, Putin can recognize the "republics" even without any appeals from the Duma - simply by his decree. But what was needed here was publicity - a demonstration of the threat. It is quite likely that that the West is only happy about such a demonstration. Because the stronger the threat, the clearer the justification for dubious compromises aimed at its elimination.
Actually, many in the West can really see a way out of the current diplomatic clinch in forcing Kyiv "to comply with the Minsk agreements". After all, the West also constantly talks about the lack of options to the Minsk agreements. And most importantly, the West, especially the European one, is afraid of a large-scale war, or rather, of millions of refugees in the EU. Not all of our "partners" understand the consequences of such "compromise" for Ukraine's integrity. Therefore, they may well agree to exchange the global military problem for, as they think, Kyiv's local concession to Moscow.
But having secretly agreeing with the West, or some of its capitals, - how to force Kyiv to enter into a format of direct dialogue with Donetsk and Luhansk, which is deadly for Ukrainian statehood, with Moscow's "mediation"? After all, even if there will be a collective lapse of reason in the Office of the President as a result of active work with "Western partners", then the street should come to terms with it. And the street in Ukraine decides everything!
Here the Kremlin remembers the same tool that it already used when forcing Kyiv to sign "Minsk-1" and "Minsk-2" - military offensive. But not along the entire perimeter of the borders (what Moscow needs the already announced Western sanctions for), but in the Donbas and by proxy (once again, - there will be no sanctions), under the guise of "people's militias" of the "DNR" and "LNR". Moreover, this will be done in response to the "provocation of the AFU", that is, the offensive, supposedly, will be launched not by Moscow, but by Ukraine, "stuffed with Western weapons". Those who monitor the Russian and occupational media of CADLO cannot but see that the population is being prepared for this scenario.
It will also be Putin's demonstrative revenge on the West for not fulfilling his ultimatums and forcing Kyiv to comply with the current "Minsk" in the interpretation of Moscow. Or, the Kremlin is generally aimed at signing "Minsk-3", which is even more destructive for Ukraine. In any case, the goal of everything that we see now both on our borders and on various negotiation platforms and the Donbas front is to force Kyiv into a direct dialogue with Donetsk and Luhansk and fulfill their (Moscow) conditions for ending the conflict.
But the outcome of such a military operation, unlike in 2015, is no longer a foregone conclusion. It is likely that the "people's militia", even reinforced by "volunteers" and "vacationers", will not only not move forward, but will provoke a counter-offensive of the AFU. Then a threat of Russia losing the territories it occupied in the Donbas may arise. Putin will sign a decree recognizing the "republics" only in this case, so that, at the request of Donetsk and Luhansk, to introduce its "peacekeepers" into the "DNR"-"LNR" and start a "peace-enforcement operation".
Moreover, this "enforcement" can be with the use of aviation and missile strikes (including on the military infrastructure of Ukraine, not only in the Donbas). But at the request of the "authorities" of the "DNR"-"LNR" and "in order to protect Russian citizens and compatriots". This is already a combination of South Ossetian and Syrian "peacekeeping" experiences...
The task of this operation is not so much the conflict preservation within its current borders, or the expansion of these borders, but the large-scale defeat of the Ukrainian army, which can cause an internal political crisis. The goal remains the same - to impose on Ukraine (through military defeat, internal destabilization, change in the power team and pressure from the frightened West) the implementation of "Minsk" in the variant of an "intra-Ukrainian civil conflict" with the introduction into the country's political body of a tool to manage it, or destruction (depending on the situation).
It is obvious that the Duma will not consider the appeal to Putin before the USA gives a written response to the Russian Federation to Russian demands for security guarantees. Obviously, the USA response will not satisfy Russia. It is obvious that Putin, first of all, will try to force Washington to put pressure on Kyiv by threatening to recognize the "republics". But if the trick fails, everything will depend on the cost of making such a decision for Moscow. And the factors that make up this price are: the ability of the AFU to inflict pain on the RF Armed Forces, and the qualifications of Washington and the EU of such "peacekeeping" - to what extent its degree will fit into the "scale" of the aggression, so that truly destructive sanctions will follow.
It looks like the real plans are just that. But nothing is predetermined. At least a lot depends on us. In any case, Putin will act on the basis of the opportunities that we will provide him...
Serhiy Harmash. OstroV