Russia Offers US Tradeoff: Syria for Ukraine Sanction Relief

Moscow and Washington have jointly announced on May 9 that they were committed to the ceasefire in Syria and would ramp up efforts for its implementation. “We demand that parties cease any indiscriminate attacks on civilians, including civilian infrastructure and medical facilities,” the statement said.
On its part, Russia said it would work with the Syrian regime “to minimize aviation operations over areas that are predominantly inhabited by civilians or parties to the cessation.”
Our sources in Washington and Moscow report exclusively that there are secret negotiations underway between the two powers regarding the future of US and European sanctions on Russia over its military intervention in the Ukraine and its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
According to our information, the Kremlin has sent messages to the White House saying that Moscow would be more cooperative regarding Washington’s position on Syria if the sanctions were eased or lifted.
That is the reason why the Russian media, on May 8, gave wide coverage of a statement by Alain Juillet, former director of intelligence at France’s General Directorate for External Security. In an interview with French weekly Paris Match, he said “The French were certainly wrong on Syria and Ukraine” due to inaccurate intelligence and politicians’ misunderstanding of the reality.
The statement followed France’s lower house of parliament vote on April 28 not to extend EU sanctions on Russia over the annexation of Crimea. Parliaments in other European countries passed similar measures.
On April 24, during a news conference in Hannover with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the last day of a six-day foreign trip, US President Barack Obama said “Sanctions on Russia can and should only be lifted once Russia fully complies with its commitments under the Minsk (peace) agreement.”
But he did not make any connection between the sanctions and the fact that the Russians are not pressuring the Syrians and the Iranians to scale down or halt the battles in Syria, especially those around Aleppo.
The bottom line is that as long as the White House and the Kremlin do not reach agreement on Ukraine and on the lifting of the sanctions, Moscow will not restrain the Aleppo offensive by Syrian and allied forces.
DEBKA Weekly’s sources in Washington report that the Obama administration is convinced that Russian President Vladimir Putin is very interested in reaching an agreement that will essentially be “Syria in exchange for Ukraine”. In Washington’s opinion, the most conspicuous sign was the arrival of Russian generals in Geneva to meet with high-ranking US officers and hash out details of the bilateral military agreements on Syria.
Another reason for the continuation of the battles in Aleppo is the fact that they are being fought mainly by Iran’s standing army, the Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hizballah, while the Syrian army avoids direct involvement (an aspect which will be covered separately).

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