A top White House official on Tuesday repeatedly claimed Russia is mounting an invasion of Ukraine by ordering troops in the separatist regions of Lugansk and Donetsk.
“We think this is, yes, the beginning of an invasion, Russia’s latest invasion into Ukraine,” deputy national security adviser Jon Finer told CNN in reference to Russian troops moving into the Donbas area in eastern Ukraine.
Hours earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would recognize the two regions as separate countries before signing a decree authorizing troops to be sent to the area for peacekeeping purposes.
“I think ‘latest’ is important here,” Finer added. “An invasion is an invasion, and that is what is underway. But Russia has been invading Ukraine since 2014” when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula.
Despite Finer’s rhetoric, other U.S. and some Western officials have declined to describe Russia’s maneuvers as an invasion.
“Russia has occupied these regions since 2014,” another White House official told reporters in a call, according to The Washington Post. “It has been Russia’s position that there are not Russian forces present in this part of the Donbas. The reality, as we pointed out on a number of occasions over these past years, has been quite different. There have been Russian forces present in these areas throughout.”
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, told reporters Tuesday that he doesn’t believe the move is an invasion but said that “Russian troops are on Ukrainian soil” in the Donbas region.
Russia’s recognition of the separatist areas, and Putin’s authorization of “peacekeeping” troops there, still stops far short of a large-scale invasion that Western countries have said for weeks they fear Moscow is planning. It leaves Western leaders guessing as to Putin’s intentions for a force of up to 190,000 troops deployed on Ukraine’s borders.
However, some analysts saw there were ominous signs displayed through a lengthy, televised speech that was given by Putin on Monday evening. Putin, who accused Kyiv of trying to obtain nuclear weapons, said he believes Ukraine is an illegitimate country with a puppet government in charge.
Most Ukrainians believe that such descriptions are false. Some parts of Ukraine were captured by Russian tsars, but other parts were not ruled by Moscow until around World War II.
EU foreign ministers in Paris were discussing sanctions that would hit Russian banks. Britain announced sanctions on three Russian billionaires and five of its banks.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was “inconceivable” that the European Champions League soccer final could go ahead in Russia as scheduled in May. The United States has discussed sanctions, but so far limited to measures directly related to the separatist regions, apparently preferring to keep a much larger planned sanctions package against Russia itself in reserve for now.
Reuters contributed to this report.