But the official stopped short of labeling the pretext of a peacekeeping mission in the rebel-controlled Donbas region an invasion. “There have been Russian troops in the Donbas for eight years now, and that, you know, Russia has denied this. Now Russia looks like it’s going to be operating openly in that region, and we are going to be responding accordingly,” the official said.
“Russian troops moving into Donbas would not itself be a new step,” the official argued. “This has been the state of affairs in that region and a big part of why it has been so unstable since 2014.”
It was just four weeks ago that President Joe Biden drew widespread criticism for an off-the-cuff remark that was seen as giving Russian President Vladimir Putin the green light for exactly what has transpired.
Biden said any U.S. response would depend on what Russia does. “It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do,” he said at a news conference on Jan. 19.
The firestorm that followed forced an immediate clarification from White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion,” Psaki said in a statement.
In an appearance on CNN a few days later, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was asked by Dana Bash point-blank, “Would seizing or recognizing the entire Donbas region qualify as an invasion and result in the crippling sanctions that you’re threatening?”
“If a single additional Russian force goes into Ukraine in an aggressive way,” Blinken said, “that would trigger a swift, a severe, and a united response from us and from Europe.”
‘HE CALLS THEM PEACEKEEPERS. THIS IS NONSENSE’: At an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council last night, U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Russia’s recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states and dispatch of Russian “peacekeepers” is clearly a “pretext for a further invasion of Ukraine.”
“We do not have to guess at President Putin’s motives. Today, President Putin made a series of outrageous, false claims about Ukraine aimed at creating a pretext for war and immediately thereafter announced Russian troops are entering the Donbas,” Thomas-Greenfield said, referencing a fiery speech Putin gave yesterday. “He calls them peacekeepers. This is nonsense. We know what they really are. In doing so, he has put before the world a choice. We must meet the moment, and we must not look away.”