MOSCOW (Reuters) - A proposal to ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to recognise two breakaway east Ukraine regions as independent will not be ready for discussion by the relevant parliamentary committee until next week, the committee's head told Reuters on Monday.
The proposal, initiated by the Communist faction in the Duma, is significant because - if parliament approved it and Putin agreed - it would mark a hardening of Russia's stance in the Ukraine crisis and further raise tensions with the West.
A source in the Duma, parliament's lower house, said its speaker would hold consultations with party leaders this week on the motion.
But Leonid Kalashnikov, head of the Duma's committee on relations with the post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States, said it would take until next week to gather submissions from all the parliamentary parties.
RIA news agency quoted another Communist deputy as saying the draft would be discussed "in February". The Duma Council, which decides when votes should take place, is next scheduled to meet on Feb. 7.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting government forces since 2014, is part of a wider crisis in which Russia has massed an estimated 100,000 troops on its neighbour's borders and NATO has moved to deter a potential Russian invasion by reinforcing its eastern flank.
Recognising the breakaway Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states would kill off the already struggling peace process and could provide Putin with a pretext to send troops into those regions to "protect" them.
The Kremlin has so far declined to comment.
"The only interest for Russia to make such a move would be the scenario of war in Ukraine," said Igor Delanoe, deputy director of the French-Russian Analytical Center Observo, based in Moscow.
He said he did not see Russia recognising the separatist regions unless it had concluded there was no possibility of implementing the 2015 Minsk agreement aimed at ending the conflict by granting them special status within Ukraine.
A European diplomat in Moscow said they did not see recognition as likely.
"Russia currently has nothing to gain by recognising them, except for perhaps the public support of some groups inside the republics themselves," the diplomat said. "Of course, if the security talks completely break down, then they could do anything."
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova, Mark Trevelyan and Tom Balmforth; Editing by Alison Williams)