On January 28, 2021 a two-day-long "Russian Donbass" forum started in Donetsk in the breakaway Donetsk People's Republic [DPR]. Attending the forum were public figures, scientists and journalists from Donbass and Russia, including the heads of the breakaway DPR and Lugansk People's Republic [LPR] Denis Pushilin and Leonid Pasechnik [respectively]. The prominent Russians attending the forum were Duma deputy Andrey Kozenko, Federation Council deputy Kazbek Taisayev, the editor-in-chief of the Russian-government- owned RT TV channel Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of the radio station Govorit Moskva Roman Babayan and the director Tigran Keosayan.
Simonyan is a longtime supporter of annexing the breakaway republics and "bringing the Donbass home" said inter alia in her speech
"The people of Donbass want to have an opportunity to be Russian [citizens], and we must grant them such an opportunity.
"The people of Donbass want to enjoy the right to speak Russian, and no one should be ever able to take this right away from them, and we must give them such an opportunity.
"The people of Donbass want to live at home and be a part of our great, generous Motherland, and we must give them such opportunity." 
Simonyan addresses the "Russian Donbas" Forum (Source: News.ykt.ru)
The forum condemned Ukrainian nationalism and charged that the Kiev government sought the genocide of the Russian people via forcible Ukrainization or physical destruction. Only those areas that took up arms and broke away were able to prevent this policy. In contrast, where resistance was not organized, "the Russians were deprived of their fundamental rights." The forum proposed a series of steps that would integrate the DPR and LPR with Russia. 
Some participants did not stop at integration and called for full blown annexation. Writer Zakhar Prilepin, believed that the moment the Russian army appeared any conflict would be over in six minutes. Prilepin also told Moscow that annexation would bring four million Russians back into the fold compensating Russia for its demographic losses.
Zakhar Prilepin (Source: Rbc.ru)
DPR militia leader Alexander Khodakovsky claimed that the forum had unambiguously endorsed the course of "not just towards integration with Russia, but towards joining it." He claimed that this course enjoyed Moscow's blessing, as proven by the attendance of Russian politicians and media figures. Effectively, the forum had renounced the Minsk agreements:
"A small revolution occurred at the forum. Until yesterday, the mantra about the need to implement the Minsk agreements was constantly repeated at the official level. According to the Minsk agreements, the Donbass republics should return to Ukraine with some kind of autonomous status. But yesterday the entire concept was reversed. We made it clear [to Kiev] that we no longer believe in the Minsk agreements, which were not even mentioned in six hours of forum talks".
Putin's press secretary Dmitry Peskov was queried whether Simonyan's remarks signaled a change in Russia's position and replied: "Margarita Simonyan is a media manager and a journalist. She in no way is a spokesperson for the official position of the Russian Federation. This issue [annexation] is not on the agenda."
The Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, Maria Zakharova also played down Simonyan's call to return Donbass to Russia: "That is her opinion, that is her point of view, that is her position. In any case she has enunciate it previously in diverse fora".
Sergey Kalashnikov, the first deputy chairman of the Duma's economics committee also disassociated the government from Simonyan's position.: "I think there is absolutely no sense in this. What will we achieve aside from an aggravation of the international situation.". Kalashnikov also warned that annexation would require major expenditures. Therefore barring Ukrainian military intervention, it was best to leave things alone.
Not everyone was willing to take Peskov's denial at face value and saw the Kremlin behind Simonyan's arrival in Donetsk and her impassioned call at the "Russian Donbass" forum.
Ukrainian Journalist Portnikov: Simonyan's Speech Dispatched Three Signals
Understandably, in Ukraine they believed that Simonyan was not acting on her own. The Ukrainian journalist Vitaly Portnikov believed that Simonyan's speech dispatched signals to three target audiences– Ukraine, the West, and the ethnic Russians in the breakaway republics. To Ukraine, Russia signaled that if Kiev was not more forthcoming in negotiations over the breakaway regions, annexation would follow and the issue would be closed. To the Western countries, Putin was signaling that he was the person keeping his finger in the dike and preventing the annexationist deluge, and therefore they should display greater patience towards his rule. Finally, to the ethnic Russians, who have been living in a state of limbo, the speech was intended as a morale builder and an assurance that mother Russia would gather them in – if not today then tomorrow.
Vitaly Portnikov (Source: Imrussia.org)
Dmitry Drize: A Convenient Distraction From The Demonstrations
Kommerant's columnist Dmitry Drize finds it suspicious that Simonyan and her comrades raised the annexation issue precisely at a time when demonstrations in support of opposition leader Alexei Navalny are taking place throughout Russia. He also notes that one of the aforementioned participants at the forum, Zakhar Prilepin explicitly tied the two issues together: "If Russia recognizes the DPR and LPR, and brings them into Russia, the liberal opposition rally on the squares of several Russian cities will look like unreasonable herds of renegades interfering with the national holiday. "The next step, according to Prilepin, would see millions of Donbass residents marching through the streets of Moscow, "trampling down" opposition representatives who did not manage to flee in advance. 
Drize is not satisfied with Peskov's denial. "Nevertheless, questions might still arise: the editor-in-chief of the state-owned TV network, a media person participated in not just a TV show, but in an event held at a conflict zone.
"Thus, this issue is starting to become clear: I don’t believe that a decision on the annexation of the Donbass or the recognition of the DPR and LPR has been made (or at least the Kremlin has officially denied this). Nevertheless, it is very likely that the idea of the 'Russian world' [incorporating areas outside Russia] is being restored to the information field.
All this appears to be logical, given the protest activity in Russia. Instead, the electorate is encouraged to think about spirituality and unity, about a return to its roots."
Venediktov: Simonyan's Speech Was A Trial Baloon
Aleksey Venediktov, editor-in-chief of the Echo of Moscow radio station, suggested that Simonyan's call to annex Donbass to the Russian Federation was made in order to "observe the reaction."
"Clearly, this is a propaganda warfare zone. It of course, plays a major role in the war [in Ukraine]. Information war is not a supplement, not a sauce [to the main course]; it is part of the war. And in this case, it is quite possible (I do not know [for sure]) it is quite possible that Margarita was asked [to utter these words]. As you would throw a pebble and see the reaction."
According to Venediktov, Simonyan "really thinks that way." However, Simonyan's opinion should be regarded as the private opinion "of a person who communicates with many people at the Kremlin."
Political Scientist Mizaryan: Simonyan Spoke For A Huge Number Of Russians, But The Timing Is Opportune
Gevorg Mizaryan, a political scientist at the government's Financial University straddled the issue. It was not just Simonyan's point of view– "the very same point of view is adhered to by a huge number of Russians and a crushing majority in both self-proclaimed republics." Unfortunately, Russia missed its opportunity in 2014. As a signatory to the Minsk agreements, Russia that has argued that agreements must be respected would forfeit legitimacy if it annexed the republics. Moreover, it would provoke Western retaliatory measures against Russia. " Smart people in that same Europe can effectively resist calls to impose sanctions on Russia due to dubious reasons - interference in the US elections, the Navalny or Skripal cases - but no one can ignore the direct fact of aggression and annexation.
Gevorg Mirzayan (Source: Ru.sputnik.md)
 Kommersant.ru, January 29, 2021; Eadaily.com, January 28, 2021.
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