Occupied Donbas in oblivion
Based on the current information vibe in Moscow, the Kremlin is not going to return the occupied Donbas, at least in the near future. The events of the recent months also prove this point.
In Moscow, they like to talk of Ukraine abusing Minsk agreements, but they forget about the issue of restoring control over parts of Russian-Ukrainian border. Meanwhile, there is an ongoing integration of the occupied areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the Russian political space. The clones of Yedinaya Rossiya [United Russia], the country’s prime political party, have been established. Russian generals are in control of the Russian officers deployed in Donbas, , who, in turn, are commanders over Russian citizens with Russian weapons and Russian tanks. Meanwhile, the Russian propaganda keeps branding this as “civil war” in Ukraine. As a new political season starts, we can expect on new horror stories about slaves and crucified boys.
In general, it’s not in the Kremlin’s character to return what has been stolen. This also applies to the occupied territories. The puppeteers behind the red wall do have interest in further fate of these areas.
It is curious though that the Russian federal channels could not care less about the lives of ordinary people living in the occupied Donbas. However, they constantly spin interviews with uniformed talking heads from among the local collaborators and uninvited Russian guests. New Russian role models talk about their feats of arms and "atrocities" of the Ukrainian army. Although, they no longer a voice their dreams to advance to Kyiv or Kharkiv. The rest of the occupied Donbas gets as little attention as some random Russian region. Actually, you can get to know of the life in the Russian province in only three cases: the arrival of top Kremlin officials, state of emergency with multiple victims, or the a thousand hectares of forests caught on fire. This has already happened during the occupation of Crimea. At the time, news about the Russian occupation, or as they called it in Russia, "little green men," were on top agenda of most TV shows. After the illegal annexation, Crimea routine may interest media solely in the context of Putin diving in a submersible to the bottom of the Black Sea.
There is nothing good in becoming another Russian region with no rights and no voice. Dozens of Federal regions are quietly cutting costs in national currency (regardless of the plunging ruble) for education, health and welfare, despite the fact that regional elections are scheduled for September. No one will tolerate statements like “No one has ever put Donbas on its knees.” They strangle any slightest protest very quickly and effectively out.
The ideologists of the "Russian world" claim Moscow has enough money for Donbas. Moreover, they boast being further able to renew operations of local factories and achieve self-sufficiency due to cheap gas. In addition, the Kremlin still has a glimmer of hope that the region the Russian army will remain in the region, disguised as "tractor drivers” and “miners", while local leaders will all be Moscow’s puppets, and Ukraine will be the one to feed the whole area.
Russia assumes to embed the occupied Donbas in the new economic order with its coal and metal, which is supposedly to be delivered to the Russian market via the "internationally recognized" South Ossetia. Well, it’s just like those mussels, shrimp and other embargoed products is delivered via Belarus. The fact that Ukraine fiercely competed with the Russians on the world markets of the said products before the war is ignored. Representatives of these industries in Russia were the main opponents of Ukraine's accession to the Customs Union, because they did not want to share the domestic market with the Ukrainian manufacturers. Without a “Made in Ukraine” tag, such products may just reach Abkhazia (in the best case), another "internationally recognized" state.
History shows that none of the "liberated" regions - Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria – have found economic or political independence. Such regimes can only be maintained by Russian military presence and money injections from Moscow.
The latest developments push us to the disappointing conclusion - Donetsk and Luhansk regions will embrace a gray zone status for a long period time. When the attacks on the positions of the Ukrainian military and relevant counteractions cease, people will gradually start returning to the region, but not for long. Unemployment, lack of political rights, destroyed infrastructure will force people to make a choice: to move to Russia, which is closing the “iron curtain,” for good, or choose another destination – the free Ukraine.