Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to recognize breakaway eastern Ukrainian territories as independent appears to be the opening salvo of a larger potential military operation targeting Ukraine, nearly a dozen US and Western officials tell DailyExpertNews.
“This is Potemkin politics,” a senior government official told reporters on Monday. “President Putin is accelerating the conflict he has caused.”
The US expects Russian troops to move into Ukraine’s Donbas region on Monday evening or Tuesday after Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the two pro-Moscow areas as independent, a senior US official familiar with the latest intelligence told cnn.
The US is still preparing for a possible invasion, including loading amphibious ships and loading equipment for airborne units.
The US and Western officials said Putin’s decision to sign the decree, declaring the Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) independent territories, has given Putin the justification for using Russian troops. and possibly launch a broader attack on Ukraine in the name of protecting the separatist regions.
The Kremlin announced Monday evening that Russia would send “peacekeeping troops” to the breakaway areas, confirming the worst fears of many officials.
“That’s your invasion,” said a European diplomat. “If we don’t act on this as we said we would in the event of another invasion, we have seriously undermined our credibility,” the diplomat said.
Still, speaking to reporters, the senior government official suggested to reporters that the mere relocation of new Russian “peacekeeping forces” to eastern Ukraine would not in itself trigger the full package of sanctions the government has threatened in the event of a Russian invasion, noting that “Russian troops have been present in these areas since 2014”
“So we’re going to look very closely at what they’re doing over the next few hours and days and our response will be measured, again based on their actions,” the official said. The official said: “It now looks like Russia will openly operate in that region, and we will respond accordingly.”
The official would not specify which line Russian troops would have to cross in eastern Ukraine to be considered another invasion.
The White House said Monday that Biden would impose new financial restrictions on the breakaway republics, and a senior administration official told reporters more actions would be announced Tuesday. But some officials say the penalties don’t go far enough — especially given Biden’s claim last month that if “a gathered Russian unit crosses the Ukrainian border, that’s an invasion” and “will receive a serious and coordinated economic response.”
DailyExpertNews’s Oren Liebermann, Katie Bo Lillis and Sebastian Shukla contributed to this report.