The UN Security Council is expected to convene an urgent meeting soon

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to recognize breakaway territories in eastern Ukraine as independent appears to be the start of a potential larger military operation targeting Ukraine, nearly a dozen U.S. and U.S. officials said. Westerners at CNN.

“It’s Potemkin’s policy,” a senior administration official told reporters on Monday. “President Putin is accelerating the very conflict he created.”

The United States expects Russian troops to be able to enter Ukraine’s Donbass region as early as Monday evening or Tuesday, after Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of the two pro-Moscow territories, he told CNN a senior US official with knowledge of the latest intelligence.

The United States is still seeing preparations for a possible invasion, including loading amphibious ships and loading equipment for airborne units.

US and Western officials said Putin’s decision to sign the decree, which proclaims the Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) to be independent territories, gave Putin the rationale that he wanted to send in Russian forces and potentially lead a broader assault on Ukraine in the name of protecting breakaway regions.

The Kremlin announced late Monday that Russia would send “peacekeeping” forces to breakaway territories, confirming the worst fears of many officials.

“This is your invasion,” said a European diplomat. “If we don’t act as we said in case of another invasion, we will have seriously undermined our credibility,” the diplomat said.

Yet in a call with reporters, the senior administration official suggested to reporters that the mere movement of new Russian ‘peacekeeping’ forces into eastern Ukraine would not in itself trigger the set of sanctions the administration has threatened in the event of a Russian invasion, noting that “Russian forces have been present in these areas” since 2014.

“So we’re going to be watching very closely what they do over the coming hours and days and our response will be measured, again, by their actions,” the official said. The official said “it now appears that Russia will operate openly in this region, and we will react accordingly.”

The official did not identify the line that Russian troops would have to cross into eastern Ukraine to be considered a new invasion.

The White House said Monday that Biden would impose new financial restrictions on breakaway republics, and a senior administration official told reporters that further actions would be announced on Tuesday. But some officials say the sanctions don’t go far enough — especially given Biden’s assertion last month that if “collected Russian units cross the Ukrainian border, that’s an invasion” and ” will be met with a severe and coordinated economic response”.

CNN’s Oren Liebermann, Katie Bo Lillis and Sebastian Shukla contributed to this report.

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