In the struggle for Ukraine, Russia is sending mixed signals.

On the one hand, the Defense Ministry said on Tuesday morning that some units that took part in “manoeuvres” in the west and south of the country, as well as in the annexed Ukrainian Crimea, returned to their bases.

On the other hand, there is a risk that the pro-Russian “people's republics” in eastern Ukraine will be recognized as “independent states”.

It would run counter to the Minsk negotiation process.

The Duma, Russia's lower house, accepted a corresponding request from President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.

Frederick Smith

Political correspondent for Russia and the CIS in Moscow.

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A motion by the pseudo-oppositional communists to ask Putin directly to recognize the "people's republics" of Donetsk and Luhansk received the most votes.

A motion by the power party United Russia, which has many more mandates, received fewer votes, according to which ministries should first have been consulted before the motion was passed on to Putin.

A scenario is looming in which Putin declares that he cannot help but recognize the "people's republics" at the pleas of the people's representatives.

Moscow has distributed Russian passports to hundreds of thousands of Donbass residents, many of whom took part in Duma elections last September.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, now said, "our representatives reflect the opinion of the people, the opinion of the people, so they discuss what is relevant to the people".

You have to have "understanding" for that.

When asked about recognition, Peskov, who said before accepting the application, said he did not want to prejudge the Duma's decision.

"Our people react very painfully to everything that is happening in Donbass," he added.

Russia has repeatedly stated that it remains committed to the Minsk negotiation process, Peskov said, but also spoke of an "enormous accumulation of Ukrainian troops near the line of contact" in the Donbass.

There are "every indication" that

Putin has presented a threat to Russians in Donbass as one of several "red lines" he has drawn for Ukraine and NATO.

Russian state television is currently talking in particularly shrill tones about threats to the "People's Republics" by the Ukrainian armed forces.

A model for recognition would be the handling of Georgia's breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008. Russia has officially deployed troops there.

In South Ossetia, Russian forces regularly move the “border” and thus bring an ever-increasing area under their control.

Relaxation in sight at all?

The threatening action puts the signals from the Ministry of Defense into perspective, which should probably be taken as relaxation.

Western countries, NATO and the government in Kiev have interpreted the concentration of troops, tanks, artillery, anti-aircraft missiles, warships and combat aircraft that Russia began last autumn on the borders with Ukraine and Crimea as building up an army that could lead to the invasion of the neighboring country could be used.