Did Russia Just ‘Invade’ Ukraine? Depends on Whom You Ask.

Ukrainian servicemen look on as an armored vehicle with a Ukrainian flag drives past in a convoy headed towards the eastern city of Debaltceve, in the region of Donetsk, on July 30. A group of former European and Russian officials on Thursday urged leaders on all sides to exercise restraint in resolving the conflict.
National Journal
Clara Ritger
Aug. 28, 2014, 5:09 p.m.

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.”

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