Putin does not need the Donbas in Russia. Putin does not need the Donetsk and Luhansk “republics” either. In both cases, Putin would be forced to support the Donbas financially from the Russian budget. And Donbas, with its current outdated, unreformed economy, especially if subjected to possible sanctions, would become a much greater burden for Russia than Crimea, Abkhazia and Transnistria put together.
Putin, unlike many residents of the Donbas, understands perfectly well that the fiery speeches by representatives of the Party of Regions that “Donbas supports Ukraine” are a bluff. The Russian economy, which already is on the verge of stagnation, simply cannot survive such a burden. Furthermore, these options may bring about the third level of sanctions.