A top European Union official on Tuesday said Russian forces entered breakaway territories in eastern Ukraine, coming after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he would recognize the regions as independent.
“Russian troops have entered in Donbas. We consider Donbas part of Ukraine,” the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, told reporters in reference to the region.
But Borell stopped short of calling it an invasion, but added, “Russian troops are on Ukrainian soil.”
Poland’s Defense Ministry 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.”
The Kremlin has not confirmed whether Russian troops are in Ukraine via its official channels or through state media. Putin on Monday evening signed an order that authorized Russian forces to enter the Lugansk and Donestk regions, which declared independence from Ukraine in 2014.
Video footage uploaded online showed troops of armored vehicles rolling into the separatist-controlled areas. However, it was not immediately clear if they were Russian.
Russia’s moves were sharply condemned by Western leaders, who then convened a U.N. Security Council meeting on Monday night. Both the United States and the United Kingdom announced they would hit Russia with sanctions, namely targeting individuals involved in the Donbas separatist movement.
German Chancellor Olaf Sholz, meanwhile, announced his country would suspend an agreement with Russia to construct the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. The 764-mile pipeline, operated by Russian state-backed firm Gazprom, that would carry natural gas from Russia to Germany hasn’t yet started operating.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Scholz said his government is taking the action after Russia’s recent maneuvers. Previously, Germany was hesitant to suspend the pipeline operations, coming months after the Biden administration lifted Trump-era sanctions on it.
“That will certainly take time, if I may say so,” Scholz said.
White House officials and Ukrainian authorities said they welcomed the development, while Russian officials warned via social media that natural gas prices will increase across Europe.
President Joe Biden “made clear that if Russia invaded Ukraine, we would act with Germany to ensure Nord Stream 2 does not move forward,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki in a Twitter post. “We have been in close consultations with Germany overnight and welcome their announcement. We will be following up with our own measures today.”
Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, proclaimed in a tweet: “Welcome to the brave new world where Europeans are very soon going to pay €2.000 for 1.000 cubic meters of natural gas!”
On Monday evening, Putin delivered a lengthy speech and claimed that parts of Ukraine are “ancient Russian lands,” while alleging that the United States is the power behind the Kyiv government. Putin, without evidence, also said that Ukraine is planning to acquire nuclear weapons.