As many as 1,000 Russian troops entered Ukraine on Thursday, U.S. officials reported, but whether the deployment qualifies as an "invasion" depends on whom you ask.
President Obama declined to call the Russian escalation an "invasion," opting instead for "incursion" in his remarks Thursday.
"I consider the actions that we've seen in the last week a continuation of what's been taking place for months now," Obama said. "Russia determined that it had to be a little more overt in what it had already been doing, but it's not really a shift."
But some members of Congress think it is important for the U.S. to invoke the term "invasion" and are calling on the White House and its allies to increase the penalties against Russia for its escalation of the conflict.
Democrat Eliot Engel of New York, the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said it would take "severe consequences" for Russian President Vladimir Putin to back down.
"Given the not-so-stealthy Russian invasion, it is absolutely clear that France must not transfer the Mistral-class warships to Moscow," Engel said in a statement. "I renew my call for NATO to buy or lease the ships. We can help Ukraine improve its ability to defend itself against Russian-supported separatists, and our NATO allies must know that the United States stands by its Article V commitment to them."
Military hawks in the Senate"”Republicans John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina"”issued a joint statement, calling for the U.S. and its allies to further increase Russian sanctions across all sectors of its economy and to provide "intelligence and defensive weapons" to Ukraine.
"Russia's ongoing aggression in Ukraine can only be called one thing: a cross-border military invasion," the senators said. "To claim it is anything other than that is to inhabit President Putin's Orwellian universe."
It was not immediately clear why the Obama administration would not use the term "invasion." U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said there was "no new set of obligations" that would arise if the administration were to use the term and White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden declined to further explain why the administration was avoiding use of the term.
"Regardless of what it's called," Psaki said, "Russia's actions need to stop."
Republican Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, issued a joint statement with Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon of California in which they said if confirmed, the 1,000-troop deployment would be "an act of war" by Russia against Ukraine.
In a phone conversation with National Journal, Turner said he believed the president was avoiding use of the term "invasion" because it would warrant a stronger U.S. response than the president was willing to give.
"This is really an invasion"”and the president, by refusing to acknowledge it, is sidestepping his national and international responsibility to formulate U.S. policy as commander in chief," Turner said. "When you take 1,000 troops and tanks and move them into another sovereign country's territory, you have invaded their territory."
Obama said the U.S. would not get involved militarily in Ukraine. Psaki told reporters Thursday that plans for additional sanctions were not in the works, but Obama said that could change at next week's NATO Summit in Wales.
"The sanctions that we've already applied have been effective," Obama said. "I think there are ways for us to deepen or expand the scope of some of that work. My expectation is that we will take additional steps, primarily because we have not seen any meaningful action on the part of Russia to resolve this in a diplomatic fashion."