Setting up a Russia-Donbas integration committee is actually another step in the Kremlin’s PR-manipulations, intended to deceive public opinion in Russia (assuming there is any), and send certain signals to the West, as if to say that if they continue supporting Kyiv, the situation may go as far as it has with Crimea.
Let’s not talk about internal consumers of such spins because public attitudes in Russia can make a U-turn within just a couple of weeks. However, to the outside world, such a move on the part of Russia will become another tool of blackmail and bargaining. In fact, the only thing Russia is keen on is blackmail. This has now become the core of Russia's foreign policy as the Kremlin simply has no other tools at its disposal. Bargaining, intimidation, and the attempts to sell the air -- that's what Russian diplomacy is all about nowadays.
Russia can’t realistically afford to also feed Donbas. Even their own economists admit it's impossible. Crimea has become "a suitcase without a handle," which is already difficult to maintain (and this is just the beginning, because problems just keep growing like a snowball). If they add a literally looted region, the areas of Donbas now temporarily occupied by Russian proxies, and try to feed and provide jobs to several million people living there, this would be unbearable to Russia.
Therefore, I believe it is the Kremlin’s game, aimed to provoke the West to steps stimulating Kyiv to become more relented. But I think, at the end of the day, this will once again boil down to the attempts to push the territory back under Ukraine’s control on some pretext, imposing some "special status" on them, as a tumor on Ukraine’s body.
The newly created Russia-Donbas integration committee, in my opinion, is just a show-off. Russia could set up whatever they want – a committee, or a commission, or a working group, drafting some kind of documents, and still they will mean nothing. If it is not funded, if it has no authority, if it remains just the name on paper, it will simply be an office with a table, a couple of chairs and three secretaries – that’s it.
It will only exist until the Kremlin comes up with some concrete decision on whether to withdraw from Donbas or seize this territory and declare it their own. That is, if they don’t plan to prepare the annexation of Donbas, as it has been done with Crimea. If this is just a game, it will only be limited to setting up this sham “committee,” which is, in fact, meaningless.
Volodymyr Ohryzko is a diplomat, Head of Russia Research Center, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine