President Joe Biden’s administration has, for the first time, formally described Russia’s actions in Ukraine as an invasion.
On Tuesday, White House principal deputy national security adviser Jon Finer shared with CNN’s “New Day” the administration’s view that “we think this is, yes, the beginning of an invasion, Russia’s latest invasion into Ukraine.”
“I think ‘latest’ is important here,” Finer said. “An invasion is an invasion, and that is what is underway. But Russia has been invading Ukraine since 2014.”
In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea from Ukrainian control and has provided military support to separatist areas in eastern Ukraine. Russia had previously sent troops into the separatist areas but had denied those actions until Monday.
Finer’s comments came the day after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a document signifying Russia’s recognition of the two separatist areas of eastern Ukraine as sovereign, and therefore separate from Ukraine.
In the days leading up to Putin recognizing the sovereignty of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR respectively), Russia had amplified unfounded claims from separatist leaders that Ukrainian forces had begun unprovoked artillery attacks and people in the separatist regions feared an incoming Ukrainian attack.
Ukraine has denied starting any of the artillery exchanges and has said it has only returned fire after being attacked from the direction of the separatist areas. Ukraine also denied evidence-free claims by Russia that a pair of Ukrainian armored vehicles and a group of five saboteurs crossed into Russia’s Rostov region from Ukraine before Russian troops “eliminated” them.
Hours after recognizing the DPR and LPR as sovereign, Russian troops crossed Ukraine’s borders under the pretense of intervening to protect the separatist areas from a Ukrainian attack. U.S. and other western officials had warned for weeks that Russia would create false claims of Ukrainian attacks either against Russia or the separatist areas, as a pretext to justify sending its forces across Ukraine’s border.
The Biden administration had initially hesitated to describe Russia’s actions in Ukraine on Monday as an “invasion.” In an official background call with reporters on Monday evening, a senior administration official acknowledged Russia had deployed troops into the DPR and LPR “for so-called peacekeeping functions” and said “We have seen a number of actions that are clear Russian-backed pretexts for further invasion,” but did not directly call Russia sending troops into DPR and LPR as an invasion.
Finer’s comments to CNN signify the administration is now embracing the term “invasion” to describe Russia’s actions in the so-called DPR and LPR areas.