February 22, 2022
Russian troops arrived in eastern Ukraine hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he would recognize the independence of two separatist regions, officials said.
Russian troops entered in Donbas, the name for the area where the two separatist regions, that have long fought Russia-backed rebels, Donetsk and Luhansk, are located, officials said, noting that they “consider Donbas part of Ukraine.”
The Kremlin then raised the stakes further Tuesday, by saying that recognition extends even to parts held by Ukrainian forces.
A White House official told Fox News that administration officials are calling it an invasion.
“The invasion has begun,” the official said. “So our sanctions response has begun.”
Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer, during an interview on CNN Tuesday morning, was pressed on whether Russia’s latest activities would be considered an invasion.
“We think this is, yes, the beginning of an invasion, Russia’s latest invasion into Ukraine, and you’re already seeing the beginning of our response that we have said will be swift and severe,” Finer said.
When pressed again, Finer said: “I hear an invasion as an invasion and that is what is underway.”
But Finer noted that Russia has been “invading Ukraine since 2014” and have been occupying a “large piece” of Ukraine since then as well.
“Although they have denied it, Russian troop presence in exactly the two—what they call republics, but they’re really provinces of a sovereign Ukraine—that they recognized yesterday,” Finer said, referring to Putin’s recognition of the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk.
“So, Russia is essentially making overt what it has denied for some time, which is Russian troop presence in these places, and we’re taking steps in response to that,” Finer said.
Pressed further, Finer again called the activities an invasion.
“I mean, again, I guess for the third or fourth time, I am calling it an invasion,” he said. “We are taking a severe response, including sanctions on Russia that will be rolling out in a matter of hours.”
As for sanctions, Finer told CNN that the public is “already seeing the beginning of our response that we have said will be swift and severe.”
Finer pointed to President Biden’s executive order on Monday, which he said effectively blocked “all economic activity” in Donetsk and Luhansk.
Finer said administration officials later Tuesday would announce “additional sanction steps” that they plan to take “that go directly at Russia” in response to “the egregious step that they took yesterday away from diplomacy and down the further path toward war.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday morning said President Biden has “made clear that if Russia invaded Ukraine, we would act with Germany to ensure Nord Stream 2 does not move forward.”
Germany overnight said it is taking steps to halt the process of certifying the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia over Moscow’s latest actions in eastern Ukraine.
“We have been in close consultations with Germany overnight and welcome their announcement,” Psaki added. “We will be following up with our own measures today.”
The 764-mile pipeline that would carry natural gas from Russia to Germany has not begun operating. Nord Stream 2 is owned and operated by a wholly owned subsidiary of Russia state company Gazprom.
Earlier this month, Biden promised to “bring an end” to Nord Stream 2 if Russia invaded Ukraine. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, appearing with Biden on his first official visit to Washington, was far less explicit about stopping Nord Stream 2, but said that the U.S. and Germany would have the same approach on punishing Russia financially.
The Nord Stream 2 has seen a faster development and deployment despite sanctions placed on it by the Trump administration. With those sanctions removed, Germany remains keen to see the pipeline activated sooner rather than later.
Scholz had insisted that the pipeline is a “business project,” according to German outlet DW.
Biden last year removed sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, allowing construction and activation to proceed.
The plan to allow Russia to develop the pipeline to create leverage in times of political crisis may have backfired, as Germany has also rapidly grown dependent on the completion and activation of the pipeline.
Meanwhile, senior administration officials told reporters on Monday evening that they will “continue to pursue diplomacy until the tanks roll.”