Biden Administration Backtracks, Is Now Calling Russia's Attack on Ukraine an Invasion

President Joe Biden's administration has called Russian troops entering Ukraine an "invasion" for the first time on Tuesday morning after members of Congress from both parties used the term and called for tough sanctions.

The Biden administration had not previously referred to the Russian military action in eastern Ukraine as an "invasion" but White House officials have said a further response will be forthcoming and is likely to include more sanctions.

Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer called Russian military action in eastern Ukraine an "invasion" in remarks to CNN on Tuesday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed decrees on Monday recognizing the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People's Republic (LNR) in Ukraine's east as independent states and ordered Russian troops into those regions.

"We think this is, yes, the beginning of an invasion, Russia's latest invasion into Ukraine," Finer said.

"I think 'latest' is important here," Finer said.

"An invasion is an invasion, and that is what is underway, but Russia has been invading Ukraine since 2014," he said.

Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. There has also been a Russian presence in Donetsk and Luhansk since 2014.

The Russian forces have entered territory controlled by Russia-backed separatists and have not traveled to areas controlled by the Ukrainian government.

This has led to apparent division about whether an invasion is underway.

U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Tuesday that an invasion had already "begun" and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell arguing there was not yet a "a fully fledged invasion."

However, there was bipartisan support for calling Russia's actions an invasion, with Democratic and Republican members of Congress calling for sanctions in response.

Though Democrats did not criticize the president, their statements seemed to express frustration on the matter.

Representative Jim Himes, a Democrat representing Connecticut's 4th congressional district, was unequivocal in a tweet on Tuesday.

"If you know the history of aggressive dictators, you know it's critical not to lose clarity. Putin is invading Ukraine. Full stop," Himes wrote.

"He's done it before, and he will do it again if he we don't impose full sanctions. He's desperate that we have a confused debate about this today," the congressman said.

Representative David E. Price of North Carolina's 4th district expressed a similar sentiment on Monday, tweeting: "Putin is trying to pull the wool over the world's eyes, but the truth is plain to see—he is lying to justify an invasion of #Ukraine."

Price thanked Biden for imposing sanctions, referring to an executive order imposing economic sanctions on the two breakaway regions issued on Monday.

Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued a statement on Monday calling Putin's recognition of the breakaway regions "an act of unprovoked aggression and a brazen violation of international law."

"This illegal recognition is an attack on Ukraine's sovereignty," Menendez said.

"To be clear, if any additional Russian troops or proxy forces cross into Donbas, the Biden administration and our European allies must not hesitate in imposing crushing sanctions. There must be tangible, far-reaching and substantial costs for Russia in response to this unjustified act," the senator's statement added.

Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), who is considered a close ally of President Biden, issued a statement on Monday following Putin's speech about Donetsk and Luhansk saying the Russian president "has made clear he intends to further invade Ukraine in a blatant effort to redraw the borders of Eastern Europe according to the whims of Moscow."

That statement echoed language the Biden administration has employed when referring to sanctions that would be imposed if Russia "further invades" Ukraine.

Prominent Republicans—both supporters and opponents of former President Donald Trump—also labeled the Russian action an invasion.

Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming's at-large congressional district said Monday: "Russia has invaded Ukraine. The Biden Administration and our allies must impose full set of crippling sanctions now."

Cheney is one of two Republicans serving on the House Select Committee investigating the Capitol riot of January 6, 2021.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who has been a close ally of Trump, called Putin's recognition of Luhansk and Donetsk "a declaration of war against the people of Ukraine."

"His decision should immediately be met with forceful sanctions to destroy the ruble and crush the Russian oil and gas sector," Graham said.

Republican Representative Michael Guest of Mississippi's 3rd district tweeted: "A Russian invasion of Ukraine must be met with severe and economically crippling sanctions from the US and our allies. The time for action is now."

Representative John Moolenaar, a Republican representing Michigan's 4th district, also called Russia's actions an invasion.

"Vladimir Putin is attacking Ukraine to oppress the free people who live there and to take their country from them," Moolenaar wrote. "The consequences for this invasion must be swift and I stand ready to support harsh sanctions on Putin and his officials for this attack."

White House officials said on Monday that a further response to Russia's decision would be announced on Tuesday. It is not yet clear what sanctions it might entail.

Newsweek has asked the White House for comment.

Joe Biden Speaks at a Steel Mill
President Joe Biden speaks at Mill 19, a former steel mill being developed into a robotics research facility, on the campus of Carnegie Mellon University on January 28, 2022, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Democrats and Republicans had referred to Russia's military action in Ukraine as an "invasion" but the Biden administration had not. Jeff Swensen/Getty Images