Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plan to deploy troops into two separatist-controlled Ukrainian territories is “not … a new step” and may not prompt the severe sanctions the U.S. has threatened, a senior U.S. administration official suggested to reporters on Monday.
The U.S. official noted that additional sanctions – to be announced Tuesday – won’t be “the swift and severe economic measures we’ve been preparing in coordination with allies and partners should Russia further invade Ukraine.” Reporters pressed the official on what, exactly, a “further invasion” means to the administration, but the official declined to get into specifics.
“Russian troops moving into the Donbas would not in itself be a new step,” the senior U.S. official said, while declining to specify exactly what would meet the definition of an invasion. “Russia has had forces in the Donbas region for the past eight years … they are apparently now making the decision to do this in a more overt and open way.” (RELATED: ‘Things Could Go Crazy, Quickly’: Biden Says He ‘Didn’t Have To Tell’ Putin Not To Harm Americans In Ukraine)
The senior U.S. official’s comments coincide with Putin signing a decree earlier Monday recognizing the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic. The decrees called for Russian troops to enter the areas for “peacekeeping” purposes.
President Joe Biden responded to the news with an executive order, though White House press secretary Jen Psaki specified that “these measures are separate from and would be in addition to the swift and severe economic measures we have been preparing in coordination with Allies and partners should Russia further invade Ukraine.”
“We have anticipated a move like this from Russia and are ready to respond immediately,” Psaki said in a statement. “President Biden will soon issue an Executive Order that will prohibit new investment, trade, and financing by U.S. persons to, from, or in the so-called DNR and LNR regions of Ukraine.
“This E.O. will also provide authority to impose sanctions on any person determined to operate in those areas of Ukraine,” the statement added.
The senior administration official’s latest comments appear at odds with the White House’s past remarks on when it would issue the “swift and severe economic measures.”
In January, the press secretary issued a statement noting that “if any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our Allies.”