Ukrainian President Zelensky said “we will not give anything to anyone”

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s move to recognize breakaway territories in eastern Ukraine as independent appears to be the opening move for a potentially larger military campaign against Ukraine, according to nearly a dozen US officials. and the West told CNN.

“This is Potemkin politics,” a senior administration official told reporters Monday. “President Putin is accelerating the very conflict he has created.”

The US expects Russian troops to be able to enter Ukraine’s Donbas region as early as Monday or Tuesday night, after Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the two pro-Moscow territories as independent, an official said. Senior US officials with the latest intelligence told CNN.

The US is still preparing for a potential invasion that includes loading amphibious ships and loading equipment for amphibious units.

US and Western officials say Putin’s decision to sign a decree declaring that the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and the Russian-backed Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) are independent territories, gave Putin justification he wanted to send Russian forces and potentially launch a broader offensive into Ukraine in the name of defending breakaway regions.

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

“It’s your invasion,” said one European diplomat. “If we don’t act as said in the event of a further invasion, we will seriously undermine our credibility,” the diplomat said.

However, in a call with reporters, a senior administration official suggested to reporters that merely moving new Russian “peacekeepers” forces into eastern Ukraine would not self-destruct. activate the full package of sanctions the administration has threatened in the event of a Russian invasion, noting that “there have been Russian forces present in these areas” since 2014.

“So we will be looking very closely at what they do in the coming hours and days and our response will be measured, again, to their actions,” the official said. “It now looks like Russia will be openly operating in that area and we will react accordingly,” the official said.

The official did not specify which front lines the Russian military would have to cross in eastern Ukraine to be considered a new invasion.

The White House said on Monday that Biden would impose new financial restrictions on breakaway republics, and a senior administration official told reporters more action would be announced next week. Tuesday. But some officials say the penalties don’t go far enough — especially considering Biden’s statement last month that if “any assembled Russian unit moves across the border of Ukraine, it’s a invasion” and “will face a severe and coordinated economic response.”

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

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