Several European leaders said earlier in the day that Russian troops moved into rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine after Putin recognized their independence.
But the scale of the movements was unclear, and Ukraine and its Western allies have said Russian troops have been fighting in the region since the separatist conflict began in 2014. Moscow denies the claims.
Members of the upper house, the Federation Council, voted unanimously to allow Putin to use military force outside Russia _ thus formalizing a Russian military deployment in rebel regions, where a conflict of eight years killed nearly 14,000 people.
The White House on Tuesday began calling Russian troop deployments in eastern Ukraine an “invasion” after initially hesitating to use the term – a red line that President Joe Biden said would result in the imposition by the United States of severe sanctions against Moscow.
“We believe this is, yes, the start of an invasion, Russia’s latest invasion of Ukraine,” Jon Finer, senior deputy national security adviser, said in an interview with CNN. “An invasion is an invasion and that’s what’s going on.”
The White House has decided to start calling Russia’s actions an “invasion” because of the situation on the ground, according to a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
The administration initially resisted the call to deploy troops because the White House wanted to see what Russia would actually do. After assessing Russian troop movements, it became clear that this was a new invasion, the official added.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki also referred to the Russian action as an invasion in a Twitter post commenting on German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s decision to shut down the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in response to Russian stocks.
The US president “made it clear that if Russia invaded Ukraine, we would act with Germany to ensure that Nord Stream 2 does not advance,” Psaki said.
For weeks, Western powers prepared for an invasion as Russia massed around 150,000 troops on three sides of neighboring Ukraine.
They warned that an attack would lead to mass casualties, energy shortages in Europe and economic chaos around the world _ and promised swift and severe sanctions if it materialized.
The European Union and Britain announced on Tuesday that some of these measures were coming.
Western leaders have long warned that Moscow would seek cover to invade _ and such a pretext emerged on Monday, when Putin recognized as independent two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, where government troops fought backed rebels by Russia in a conflict that has killed more than 14,000 people.
The Kremlin then upped the ante further on Tuesday, saying recognition extended even to large parts now held by Ukrainian forces.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia recognized the independence of the rebel regions “within the borders that existed when they declared” their independence in 2014 _ vast territories that extend far beyond beyond areas currently under rebel control which include the main Sea of Azov port of Mariupol.
Putin’s decision to recognize the territories’ independence allowed him to formalize his hold on them and send forces there, though Ukraine and its Western allies have accused Russian troops of fighting there for years . Moscow denies these allegations.
Condemnation from around the world was swift. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said he will consider severing diplomatic ties with Russia and Kiev has recalled its ambassador to Moscow.
But confusion over exactly what was happening in eastern Ukraine threatened to hamper a Western response. While the United States clearly called it an invasion, some other allies fought back.
“Russian troops have entered Donbass”, the name of the area where the two breakaway regions are located, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in Paris. “We consider Donbass as part of Ukraine.”
But in a distinction that could complicate a European and Western response, he added: “I wouldn’t say (it’s) a full-fledged invasion, but Russian troops are on Ukrainian soil.”
The Polish Ministry of Defense and British Health Secretary Sajid Javid also said Russian forces had entered eastern Ukraine, with Javid telling Sky News that “the invasion of Ukraine has begun”.
Not everyone in Europe saw it that way. Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares noted that “if Russia uses force against Ukraine, the sanctions will be massive.”
The Kremlin has not confirmed any deployment of troops in the rebel east, saying it will depend on the security situation.
Vladislav Brig, a member of the separatist Donetsk local council, told reporters that Russian troops had already moved in, but top rebel leaders did not confirm this.
Late Monday, convoys of armored vehicles were seen rolling through separatist-held territory. It was not immediately clear if they were Russian.
In response to the measures taken so far, senior EU officials have said the bloc is ready to impose sanctions on several Russian officials and banks funding the Russian armed forces and to limit Moscow’s access to markets for EU capital and finance. They gave few details.
EU foreign ministers will meet later on Tuesday to discuss the measures – but they do not appear to include the massive punishment repeatedly promised in the event of a full-blown invasion.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said the UK would impose sanctions on five Russian banks and three wealthy individuals.
Although he said Russian tanks had already entered eastern Ukraine, he warned that a full-scale offensive would bring “strong new sanctions”.
The White House also moved to respond, issuing an executive order banning US investment and trade in breakaway regions, and additional measures — likely sanctions — were to be announced on Tuesday.
These sanctions are independent of what Washington has prepared in the event of a Russian invasion, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.
The Russian measures also prompted Germany to suspend the certification process for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline which was to bring natural gas from Russia.
The pipeline was built to help Germany meet its energy needs, particularly as it shuts down its last three nuclear plants and phased out the use of coal, and it has resisted calls from the United States and others to stop the project.
As world leaders raced to decide their response, legislation that will likely pave the way for a deeper advance into Ukrainian territory has been passed by Russia’s parliament.
The bills, which quickly passed through the Kremlin-controlled parliament, contemplate military ties between Moscow and the breakaway regions, including the possible deployment of Russian military bases in the breakaway regions.
Even as alarm spread around the world, Zelenskyy, the President of Ukraine, sought to project calm, telling the country in an overnight address: “We are not afraid of anyone or anything. We don’t owe anyone anything. give anything to anyone.”
Its Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, will be in Washington on Tuesday to meet Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the State Department said.
Russia has long denied plans to invade Ukraine, instead blaming the United States and its allies for the current crisis and describing Ukraine’s bid to join NATO as an existential challenge to Russia.
Putin reiterated those accusations in an hour-long televised speech on Monday, when he announced that Russia would recognize the rebels.
“Ukraine’s NATO membership poses a direct security threat to Russia,” he said.
Russia says it wants Western guarantees that NATO will not allow Ukraine and other former Soviet countries to join.
Moscow has also called on the alliance to halt arms deployments in Ukraine and withdraw its forces from Eastern Europe – demands flatly rejected by the West.
Putin warned on Monday that Western rejection of Moscow’s demands gives Russia the right to take further steps to protect its security.