Confusion Erupts Among Western Leaders Whether To Call Russian Moves "An Invasion"

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by Tyler Durden
Tuesday, Feb 22, 2022 - 03:50 PM

That didn't take long: the White House along with CNN is already calling Vladimir Putin's recognition of the Ukrainian breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk an "invasion". This even as European allies are stopping noticeably short of such dramatic and ratcheted language. 

"An invasion is an invasion and that is what is under way," a top national security adviser who assists Jake Sullivan told CNN host Brianna Keilar, who nodded in agreement with the assessment. White House Principal Deputy National Security Adviser Jonathan Finer was asked by Keiler whether or not we are now witnessing "an invasion". He called it a "fulfilment of what the president said would transpire" - apparently claiming that mere recognition of the breakaway republics means the administration's prior "imminent invasion" narrative of the past weeks has come true. 

The CNN anchor asked at the start of the segment: "Is this as you see it - as the White House sees it - an 'invasion'?"

Finer responded: "We think this is - yes - the beginning of an invasion - Russia's latest invasion into Ukraine." Overnight it was widely reported that the Kremlin ordered what it's calling "peacekeeping" forces into the two republics in Donbas. 

"And you are already seeing the beginning of our response... within minutes of President Putin speaking yesterday we issued an executive order that effectively blocked all economic activity in the two provinces of Ukraine that Russia now says belongs to somebody else," he continued, referencing the White House's very limited action thus far. He claimed that this is in fulfilment of "what the president said would transpire" - and underscored that the "Nord Stream 2 pipeline will not go forward."

Without doubt this is the start of the mainstream networks in unison with the White House moving the goal posts dramatically. Despite neither Ukraine itself, nor the people on the ground, nor international pundits and correspondents seeing in Putin's declaration "an invasion" - it's likely US media will take Jonathan Finer's words and run with them. The claim will be that the White House predictions were "right" all along - also despite there never being the big 'false flag' or 'chemical attack' provocation that Jen Psaki and Ned Price have been hyping. 

But from Europe's perspective, it apparently stops short of classification as an invasion: "British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have met and agreed on the need for more diplomacy to stop Russian leader Vladimir Putin from ordering an invasion of Ukraine, and strong responses if Russia does attack," it was reported Tuesday.

This new attempt to change terms regarding what an "invasion" means also calls to mind last month's Biden "minor incursion" gaffe which the White House tried desperately to walk back. 

He said in late January: "I think what you're going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades. And it depends on what it does. It's one thing if it's a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do."

NPR and others noted at the time that this signaled NATO disunity: "On Wednesday, Biden had predicted Russia would invade Ukraine, but suggested there was a split among NATO members about how to respond if Moscow took action that stopped short of sending its troops across the border — something Biden referred to as a 'minor incursion.'"

At the same time a Biden admin official has separately said, "Russian troops moving into Donbas would not itself be a new step" - given the crisis there has been ongoing since 2014. This suggests the White House will have to get lockstep on defining its own terms before deciding what level of sanctions to deploy against Moscow. 

So we are already seeing the kind of same confused and contradictory response that's marked the last month of endless invasion predictions. 

As Bloomberg writes Tuesday, "Western leaders are shying away from saying Vladimir Putin’s move to recognize two self-proclaimed separatist republics in eastern Ukraine amounts to the invasion they’d been warning would likely come, even as the Russian president orders his forces to start deploying to the breakaway areas."

And just like that, they're already off and running...

For a look into just how these terms are conventionally defined, Academy Securities dives deeper in the following...

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Limited Incursion. While visions of “peacekeepers” rolling into the Ukraine originally drove markets lower, a couple of things seem to have calmed the situation (for markets, not for the Donbas)

Limited response. In the immediate aftermath of Putin’s actions, it seemed like sanctions might be minimal and target the Donbass region and those involved there, rather than applying more broadly to Russia. Some statements, depending on how you chose to interpret them, seemed to indicate that only further incursion into Ukraine would warrant more severe sanctions. This outcome is good for Putin, good for markets, and awful for not only the Donbass, but for those who worry (and I’m one of them) that this just lays out the steps for future incursions, by Russia, and possibly others.

Severe Response. Putting Nordstream2 in jeopardy would hurt Russia. Going after oligarch’s assets across the globe would hurt Putin (not sure if we can get there, but aggressive measures are at least being discussed). It is clear to many, now, even if it should have been clear sooner, that Putin isn’t easily scared. They have been almost dismissive of sanctions, as they have been enduring them, to varying degrees for years and had plenty of time to prepare for this round. Longer term, that China/Russia pipeline deal is helping shape what he can do (not in a good way, for the West). This is worse for markets, better for humanity, but at this stage, seems unlikely to prevent incursion.

Full-scale attack. This remains highly unlikely, as nothing has changed about the logistics and cost to Russia of mounting such an attack. While Putin’s speech was a clear indication that this is something he wants, which increases the odds, it will still be a difficult and brutal battle. Also, after his “performance” yesterday, we may see a much more hardline response from NATO and the West as his dreams, if not intentions, are impossible to deny. Any major conflict, whether it is Ukraine aggressively defending its borders, or Russia pushing far into Ukraine will be incredibly disruptive for markets, at least in the near term.