"A goal that is common to us all … is to achieve the lifting of sanctions this summer," French Economics Minister Emmanuel Macron said last Sunday.
And on Friday US Secretary of State John Kerry said that he saw the prospect of full implementation of the Minsk agreements in the coming months and subsequent withdrawal of sanctions associated with the Ukrainian crisis.
"I believe that it is possible that in the following months the Minsk agreement will be implemented," US Secretary of State John Kerry said. "Then we will find ourselves in a situation where sanctions could be, accordingly, with the full implementation of the Minsk agreements dropped," said Kerry.
"When it says it is prepared to lift the sanctions, the West does not do a very big favor to Russia," the director of the Political Studies Centre, Aleksey Makarkin, has told TASS. "It merely hints that if Russia makes concessions, it will be ready to lift sanctions. Sanctions are not a mechanism of punishment, but a mechanism of pressure.
In this particular case we are witnesses to attempts to force Russia into concessions over the east of Ukraine. "Talks are currently in progress over a variety of formats of different agreements. A compromise that would suit one and all is unachievable in principle. For instance, what should follow first - elections to local bodies of power or the handover of control of the border to Kiev. Clearly, the Ukrainian authorities would like to regain control of the border first and then hold the elections, while Russia would prefer to have it the other way round. The negotiations are rather tough-going."
Of course, in Europe there are rather strong forces that would like to see the main sanctions lifted, which will pave the way for further cooperation with Russia, Makarkin said. "Besides, the Europeans are not very enthusiastic about having a conflict not very far away from their borders, while Barack Obama would like to have it resolved before the end of his presidency. Both have been hinting that if Russia agrees to compromise and to cede control of the border - and this is a key expectation of the West - it would be a reason enough to terminate the sanctions."
Senior research fellow at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, Sergey Mikhailov, believes that Western officials have changed the tonality of their rhetoric largely as a result of Russia’s diplomatic activity on the Ukrainian track, such as the Surkov-Nuland meeting and the involvement of Boris Gryzlov in the negotiating process.
"The promises of lifting sanctions are a decoy, a means of persuading Russia to make concessions," he told TASS. "First and foremost the West wants control of the border to be handed over to Kiev."
As far as France and other European countries are concerned, they have their own interests in restoring economic ties with Russia, but Europe is unable to exercise any cardinal influence. All decision-making will remain in the United States’ hands, Mikhailov said.
Besides, the lifting of sanctions is unlikely to have any tangible effect on the Russian economy in the current situation, where the price of oil is the key factor.
"The Western partners are hoping that Russia would take steps for Donbass’s return to Ukraine. This is what all promises to cancel sanctions are aimed at," the president of the National Strategy Institute, Mikhail Remizov, told TASS. "Moscow is expected to make some concessions at consultations over the implementation of the Minsk Accords."
"There is a possibility such factors as the Yukos affair may play a far more significant role in relations between Russia and West than sanctions as such. The Litvinenko affair that has surfaced all of a sudden is quite indicative as well. In other words, it would be premature to say a general easing of tensions is a reality."
"There is certainly more understanding these days, but I wouldn’t say that the chances of implementing the Minsk Accords have grown," Remizov said. "There is no fundamental answer to the question who will pay for the post-war reconstruction of Donbass. This is one of the reasons why Kiev is not very eager to have it back."
Moscow believes that Western partners, first and foremost, France and Germany, have had enough occasions to see for themselves that Kiev’s stance is the main obstruction. "But if the Minsk Accords are disrupted through Kiev’s fault, the sanctions will stay. We’ve been told that in very unequivocal terms."
Remizov agrees that the role of sanctions in the economic crisis in Russia is insignificant.