White House describes Russian troop movements as ‘invasion’ of Ukraine, triggering new sanctions

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is now describing Russia’s movement of troops into eastern Ukraine on Monday as “an invasion,” a move President Joe Biden has said would trigger significant economic sanctions against Moscow.

The shift in the administration’s language comes just hours after officials said that Russia moving troops into the Donbas region of Ukraine “would not itself be a new step,” since Russia has had forces there since 2014.

Two administration officials said the change in language Tuesday morning followed an assessment of Russia’s actions on the ground in Ukraine.

The White House’s initial decision not to call Russia’s deployment of troops in Donbas as an invasion — following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s formal recognition of two Moscow-backed separatist regions there as independent — drew criticism from Democrats and Republicans in Congress. It also appeared to contrast with administration officials’ past declarations that a single Russian troop crossing the border, including in Donbas, would constitute an invasion.

“President Biden has spoken to the fact that if a Russian tank or a Russian troop moves across the border, that’s an invasion,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Feb. 6.

On Tuesday, deputy national security adviser Jon Finer said Russia had crossed that line and, as such, Biden would announce in the coming hours new sanctions against Russia.

Finer described Russia’s actions as “the beginning of the latest Russian invasion of Ukraine” in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“I think you will see significant steps that will impose consequences on Russia for the actions it took yesterday,” Finer added. “If Russia takes further actions, we will have further significant and severe consequences that we can impose via sanctions on Russia, in addition to the other elements of our response, including security assistance to the Ukrainians to help them defend themselves.”

Finer also told CNN: “Invasion is an invasion, and that is what is underway.”

Administration officials declined to detail the sanctions Biden plans to announce Tuesday. U.S. sanctions are expected to be rolled out in coordination with America’s European allies.

Sally Bronston contributed.

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