Chris Lange, FISM News
President Biden on Tuesday signaled a pivotal shift in his position on the Russia-Ukraine crisis by acknowledging that Moscow’s encroachment of Ukraine’s separatist-backed Donbas region is, in fact, an invasion.
“This is the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine,” Biden said Tuesday afternoon. “Yesterday, Vladimir Putin recognized two regions of Ukraine as independent states and he bizarrely asserted that these regions are no longer part of Ukraine and their sovereign territory. To put it simply, Russia just announced that it is carving out a big chunk of Ukraine.”
Biden went on to accuse Putin of breaking international law.
Who in the Lord’s name does Putin think gives him the right to declare new so-called countries on territory that belonged to his neighbors? This is a flagrant violation of international law, and it demands a firm response from the international community.
The East-West faceoff over Ukraine has escalated significantly since Putin signed a decree granting full recognition of Ukraine’s Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) Monday and announced that he was sending troops into those regions to perform “peacekeeping functions.”
Putin issued the directive following an hour-long, televised speech laced with language evincing bitterly-held grudges over the breakup of the U.S.S.R., which he said opened the door for Ukraine and other republics to declare independence from Russia. Columns of Russian military vehicles have since entered the Donbas region, along with reports that additional Russian troops have arrived. Moscow’s Duma legislative body on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved Putin’s request to use military force outside of Russia.
Meanwhile, Western leaders meted out additional sanctions on Russian banks and oligarchs in an effort to exert more pressure on the Kremlin to de-escalate.
The U.S. and European NATO allies working in concert have halted the operation of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany and blocked two major Russian banks with combined assets of $85 billion, $35 billion of which finances the Russian military. Washington has further threatened to freeze Moscow’s top two financial institutions which collectively hold nearly $750 billion in assets.
“Russia’s long-previewed invasion of Ukraine has begun and so, too, has our response,” National Security Advisor Daleep Singh said during a late-afternoon White House briefing Tuesday.
“Make no mistake: This is only the sharp edge of the pain we can inflict,” Singh continued. “Let me just end where I started: This was the beginning of an invasion, and this is the beginning of our response. The actions we took today were only the first tranche,” he continued. “If Putin escalates further, we will escalate further.”
Some U.S. lawmakers, however, think the staged sanctions will have little to no effect on Putin’s plans.
“We are wasting time on incremental & symbolic sanctions when we know FOR A FACT he has made an irreversible decision on #Ukraine & is already executing the plan,” tweeted Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)
We should have sanctioned Sberbank & VTB Bank last night in the middle of #Putin’s speech
We are wasting time on incremental & symbolic sanctions when we know FOR A FACT he has made an irreversible decision on #Ukraine & is already executing the plan
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) February 23, 2022
Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine “the greatest threat to security in Europe since World War II” during a joint Tuesday press conference with Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
“Ukraine is in danger,” Blinked stated bluntly. “President Putin is blatantly and violently breaking the laws and principles that have kept the peace across Europe and around the world for decades.”
Blinken went on to lay out the sanctions the U.S. and Western NATO allies have imposed on Russia – actions Kuleba praised while, at the same time, evincing a sense of disappointment that more aggressive action has not been taken against Putin.
“Today we discussed some very specific ideas, and we appreciate very concrete steps made by the United States,” Kuleba began. “These days we receive proposals from some countries to condemn Russia’s behavior, to condemn but not follow the condemnation with action. And I would like to say that condemnations are important, but it’s actions that really matter now, these days.”
Kuleba’s somber tone throughout the briefing signaled a significant shift from the forced optimism expressed by Ukraine’s President Volodymir Zelensky’s in the months and weeks leading up to the invasion as he struggled to quell panic over the West’s repeated warnings of an “imminent invasion.”
At one point, Kuleba appeared to make an oblique reference to a controversial comment Biden made during a January press conference in which he suggested that the U.S. would not respond to a “minor incursion” by Russia on Ukraine. Responding to a reporter’s question as to whether Ukraine considered Moscow’s movement into the Dubas region a “minor invasion,” Kuleba replied, “There is no such thing as minor, middle, or major invasion. Invasion is an invasion.”
Blinken later dismissed Putin’s claims that the conflict between Moscow and Kyiv stems from concerns that Ukraine is planning to become a NATO member, which became the chief sticking point of failed diplomatic negotiations.
“With regard to President Putin’s statement about NATO and the open door, it’s very clear what we’ve seen in the last 24 hours that this has never been about Ukraine and NATO per se,” Blinken said. “What President Putin has made clear is that this is about the total subjugation of Ukraine to Russia. It’s about reconstituting the Russian empire or, short of that, a sphere of influence, or, short of that, the total neutrality of countries surrounding Russia.”