Is it a Russian ‘invasion’? Ukraine, West say not yet but warn invasion is likely

Many Western leaders are shying away from saying Vladimir Putin’s move to recognize two self-proclaimed republics in eastern Ukraine amounts to the invasion they’d been warning would likely come, even as the Russian president orders his forces to start deploying to the breakaway areas.

In a televised address to the nation early on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Putin’s actions merely “legalized troops” he said were already present in the self-proclaimed republics since a conflict began with breakaway forces in 2014.

Russia has long backed the separatists while refuting claims it arms them or has its own soldiers in the area. It’s unclear how quickly its troops might now go in, and in what number.

US President Joe Biden so far has not come out in public to make a statement as he huddled with advisers and consulted allies on the next steps.

That’s even as his Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer told CNN on Tuesday that “an invasion is an invasion and that is what is underway.”

At issue is the uncertainty that still surrounds Putin’s intentions from here.

He has repeatedly denied his ultimate plan is a full-scale invasion of his neighbor, even as the US and other allies said their intelligence showed a buildup of around 150,000 soldiers and equipment that could enable one, including possible attacks on multiple cities aside from the capital, Kyiv.

If troops do now enter the breakaway areas, the unknown is whether they could then push on past the line of contact between the separatists and Ukrainian forces.

So while the West has warned that any intervention in Ukraine would prompt severe economic sanctions against Russia, actions so far have centered around limited penalties that would target those who trade and invest in the breakaway areas.

Economic activity there has already plummeted since 2014.

One notable marker was the decision by the German government on Tuesday to halt the already-delayed certification process of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia.

President Emmanuel Macron asked his government to implement “appropriate and targeted sanctions against Russian interests, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told reporters on Tuesday, without offering details.

In the UK, Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Sky News that “you could conclude the invasion of Ukraine has begun with Putin’s actions on Monday.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson initially seemed more cautious, then later told parliament “the House should be in no doubt that the deployment of these forces in sovereign Ukrainian territory amounts to a renewed invasion of that country.”

But while officials in European Union member states were united in their condemnation of Putin’s latest actions, they largely refrained from using the word “invasion so far.”

Even the leaders of Baltic states, who have been among Russia’s fiercest critics, are holding off on such language.

“It’s not yet the invasion our partners have been talking about,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told reporters on Tuesday. “But it’s a very steep escalation.”

In the US, the response varied across the ideological spectrum with some of the more moderate Republican lawmakers immediately drawing the conclusion that what Putin did was an invasion.

Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney, who was a consistent critic of former President Donald Trump, was the most direct and tweeted right out the of the gates: “Russia has invaded Ukraine.”

US Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said in a statement “Russia invading Ukraine violates every international norm.”

Democrats were careful in their choice of words. Chris Coons of Delaware, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, came out to say “President Putin in a rambling, grievance-fueled speech today has made clear he intends to further invade Ukraine in a blatant effort to redraw the borders of Eastern Europe according to the whims of Moscow. Indeed, the term “further” seems to be the key, the idea being that Russia has simply made official what Ukraine has long called the reality on the ground.”

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