"Putin would appear to win, securing Crimea, a frozen conflict in Donbas, which he will assume will cripple the Ukrainian economy and the prospects of a Maidan administration ever succeeding," Timothy Ash, a senior analyst of emerging markets for Standard Bank in London, wrote in the Kyiv Post.
Likewise, Arkady Moshes of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs wrote recently in The Moscow Times that such an outcome in eastern Ukraine would "become a source of destabilization for Ukraine's adjacent regions" and open "the way for a real Bosnianization of Ukraine."
And in a report from Transdniester's de-facto capital, Tiraspol, the Russian journalist Sergei Podosenov noted that "to a certain extent, Transdniester could represent the favorable scenario for self-proclaimed Novorossia in the event of its secession from Ukraine."
Tiraspol, he added, "does not look like the capital of a tiny state recognized by no one and located in unfriendly surroundings, but like an everyday, quiet, southern Russian city with little houses covered in ivy."
So are we about to add Donbas to the list of Kremlin-orchestrated frozen conflicts? Perhaps, with some important caveats.
The wars in South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Transdniester that led to those territories becoming de-facto Russian protectorates all took place in the early 1990s, in the chaos following the breakup of the Soviet Union.
"The majority of the current unrecognized states in the former Soviet space emerged atop the wave of the 'parade of sovereignties,' when this was a sort of political trend," journalist Vladimir Dergachev wrote on the online Russian newspaper gazeta.ru recently.
And as a result, the uprisings there appeared to much of the world at the time to be genuine local rebellions, and therefore not so different from the former Soviet republics' independence struggles. In this environment, Russia was able to plausibly claim to be a mediator—and ultimately to play the role of "peacekeeper"—in conflicts that it had itself stoked.
And it was able to do so with the West's implicit blessing, or at least tacit consent.
This time, the mask would be off and Moscow wouldn't be able to pursue its goals by stealth. Setting up a frozen conflict in Donbas would intensify Russia's conflict with the West, lead to even more crippling sanctions, and Moscow's deeper isolation.
"Moscow retained for itself the status of a relatively neutral intermediary in Abkhazia and South Ossetia until 2008, and in Transdniester and Nagorno-Karabakh to this day. In this instance it will no longer be possible," Dergachev wrote.
And knowing the threat that a frozen Donbas conflict would be for Ukraine's statehood, Kiev would likely prefer to keep the conflict hot. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has said he would not allow a Transdniester scenario in eastern Ukraine.