From the Washington Post news section:
Putin announced he is sending troops into Russian-backed separatist regions within Ukraine. Opinions differ on whether that is an invasion of the country.
By Ashley Parker
Today at 9:17 p.m. EST
The White House on Monday confronted the reality that its months-long effort to avert a Russian invasion of Ukraine would likely be futile, as officials grasped for last-ditch ways to head off what one called “military action that could take place in the coming hours or days.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin spent the holiday weekend effectively closing off one diplomatic path after another, suggesting ever more clearly that he would not be swayed by diplomacy or deterred by sanctions. And by announcing that he was recognizing two pro-Russian separatist regions of Ukraine and ordering troops into them, he forced the United States into an uneasy dilemma about whether that constituted an invasion.
The Biden administration sought to hit back at Russia’s aggressive action while stopping short of declaring that it had officially invaded Ukraine, which would have triggered the array of hard-hitting sanctions President Biden has been warning about for months. …
Still, the administration official repeatedly refused to say whether Putin’s decision to send “peacekeeping” troops into the two Russian-backed separatist areas constituted a red-line invasion in the eyes of the Biden administration. If anything, the official tried to portray Monday’s developments as far short of a dramatic change in the status quo.
“Russia has occupied these regions since 2014,” said the official, a point he emphasized several times throughout the call. “It has been Russia’s position that there are not Russian forces present in this part of the Donbas. The reality, as we pointed out on a number of occasions over these past years, has been quite different. There have been Russian forces present in these areas throughout.”
After the call, a different administration official defined a Russian invasion that would prompt a clear U.S. response as crossing into Ukrainian territory that Russia has “not occupied since 2014.”
Not everyone agreed. Donetsk and Luhansk are not generally recognized as independent countries, and some experts suggested that sending troops to them amounted to dispatching a military force into Ukraine itself.
Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama, tweeted that “Russia is invading Ukraine right now.”
This reminds me of the various brouhahas over the last 55 years regarding the varying official status of the various chunks of land — East Jerusalem, West Bank, Golan Heights, Gaza Strip, and Syria — militarily conquered by Israel in 1967.
After the 1940s’ series of unfortunate events, the world more or less decided that it doesn’t approve of military conquest anymore, so that those who does conquer some place don’t get to have the rest of the world recognize their conquest. Which sounds insignificant in practical terms, but can matter a lot in the long run since that can wind up being the re-dividing line.
Trump’s recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights to help Bibi out in his 2019 election doesn’t help right now. And then in 2020, Trump and Kushner recognized Morocco’s control over the old Spanish Sahara colony of Western Sahara in return for Morocco recognizing Israel.
“Kremlin recognition of the so-called ‘Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics’ as ‘independent’ requires a swift and firm response, and we will take appropriate steps in coordination with partners,” the secretary of state wrote.
But as Presidents’ Day weekend came to a close, the Biden administration’s definition of a “swift and firm response” remained nearly as murky as what exactly constituted an invasion.
The Biden Administration appears to have erred by not publicly emphasizing this as something the Kremlin might do. In contrast, they did a good job of warning about “false flags,” so that when Moscow started complaining about Ukraine supposedly attacking Russia with artillery, nobody outside of Russia much cared.
But they appear to have been wrongfooted by this move by Putin. We were promised Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, but so far we’ve gotten a Slavic version of the convoluted Jerusalem embassy question.