Waiting for several months after the referenda (modeled on that in Crimea) in Donets and Lugansk on May 11, which Putin urged to be "postponed" (in that case effectively killing them), Putin and the Russian government began making it increasingly clear that the Minsk Agreements, which they do want to be fully implemented, do mean reintegration of Lugansk and Donetsk into Ukraine with the current Banderite and anti-Russian regime in Kiev intact. This position also means that, for Moscow, the referenda of May 11 are treated as politically and legally immaterial. But, at the same time, Moscow did not want to see Donetsk and Lugansk defeated militarily or in an open and direct way for, in that case, things would be too obvious and too bad for Putin's reputation and legitimacy. To enable this "strategy," Strelkov was removed, the Minsk Agreements were signed, and Moscow selected new leaders for Donetsk and Lugansk and made the republics run "local elections," as Moscow now calls them, in which other candidates were barred from running (Gubarev, the communists, Batman, etc.). In ordering these elections, Moscow explicitly promised to recognize them and then, when the West and Kiev called them illegitimate, Moscow obliged and did not officially recognize them, hiding behind the sophistic formula already used for the referenda ("we respect" them).
Of course, the US and NATO knows all this and they are tweaking their strategy accordingly, letting Moscow be part of the process that is creating for Russia progressively disadvantageous, negative and self-defeating conditions.