Russian President Vladimir Putin’s move to recognize the breakaway lands of eastern Ukraine as independent appears to be the start of a potentially larger military operation targeting Ukraine, nearly a dozen US and Western officials told CNN.
“This is Potemkin’s policy,” a senior administration official told reporters on Monday. “President Putin is accelerating the very conflict he created.”
The United States expects Russian forces to move into Ukraine’s Donbass region as soon as Monday evening or Tuesday, after Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of the two pro-Moscow regions, a senior U.S. official familiar with the latest intelligence told CNN.
The United States continues to see preparations for a possible invasion including loading amphibious ships and loading equipment for airborne units.
US and Western officials said Putin’s decision to sign the decree, declaring the Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) to be independent regions, gave Putin the justification he wanted to send Russian troops to and potentially launch a broader attack on Ukraine. In the name of protecting the separatist regions.
The Kremlin announced Monday evening that Russia will send “peacekeepers” to the separatist regions, emphasizing the worst fears of many officials.
“This is your invasion,” said a European diplomat. “If we don’t act on this as we said in the event of another invasion, we will have seriously undermined our credibility,” the diplomat said.
However, in a call with reporters, the senior administration official suggested to reporters that merely moving new Russian “peacekeepers” into eastern Ukraine would not, by itself, trigger the full package of sanctions that threatened the administration in the event of a Russian invasion, noting that ” Russian forces have been present in these areas” since 2014.
“So we will look closely at what they will do over the next hours and days and our response will be measured, again, according to their actions,” the official said. “It now appears that Russia will act openly in that region, and we will respond accordingly,” the official said.
The official did not specify which line Russian forces would have to cross in eastern Ukraine as a new invasion.
The White House said Monday that Biden will impose new financial restrictions on the two breakaway republics, and a senior administration official told reporters that more measures will be announced on Tuesday. But some officials say the sanctions aren’t enough — particularly given Biden’s claim last month that if any grouped Russian units moved across the Ukrainian border, it was an invasion and “would face a severe and coordinated economic response.”
CNN’s Oren Lieberman, Katie Bo Lillis, and Sebastian Shukla contributed to this report.
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