Pentagon chief says Russia's move into Ukraine is its 'latest invasion'

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday described Russia’s recent move into Ukraine as its “latest invasion” as he met with Kyiv’s top diplomat.

“Russia's latest invasion is threatening the peace and security and prosperity of Ukraine and of trans-Atlantic community,” Austin said at the start of the meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba at the Pentagon.  

Russian President Vladimir Putin a day earlier recognized two separatist regions of Ukraine, the so-called Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic, as independent. Putin also ordered to the region troops he claimed were “peacekeepers,” but Western officials fear it could be the start of an invasion, as Moscow has amassed as many as 190,000 troops near Ukraine.  

Austin reiterated that U.S. support for Ukraine's “self-defense, sovereignty and territorial integrity is unwavering” and said that, beyond sanctions, the U.S. and allied nations “will not hesitate to impose other severe economic costs as events dictate.” 

President Biden later on Tuesday announced the first tranche of such bruising financial sanctions on the Russian economy, businesses and individuals, making good on months of threatening the actions should Russia invade.  

Biden also ordered additional U.S. troops to NATO's eastern flank, upping the 6,000 forces already deployed or repositioned to the region earlier this month.

Austin, meanwhile, described the time as a “critical, critical moment in history” but said Putin “can still avoid a full-blown, tragic war of choice.” 

He also commended Kuleba for Kyiv’s “measured response and for continuing your nation's call for a peaceful diplomatic solution in the face of Russia's aggression, provocations and false accusations.” 

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