WASHINGTON — U.S. officials are refusing to call Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine this week an invasion, and the issue is not on the agenda for Thursday's National Security Council meeting.
"Today the president is meeting with his National Security Council to discuss the situation in Iraq and Syria, our ongoing efforts to support the Iraqi government, and our efforts to counter the threat posed by ISIL," a White House official said on Thursday when asked if the situation in Ukraine would also be a part of the meeting. "You should not expect that we'll have new decisions to announce on these issues today."
The meeting will include heads of intelligence agencies, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Vice President Joe Biden, and Secretary of State John Kerry, the three of whom plan to join remotely. The meeting is expected to include discussion of whether or not the U.S. will carry out strikes against the Islamist terrorist organization ISIS inside Syria.
Russian combat troops are currently inside southeastern Ukraine. NATO released satellite imagery showing this on Thursday. "The satellite images released today provide additional evidence that Russian combat soldiers, equipped with sophisticated heavy weaponry, are operating inside Ukraine's sovereign territory," NATO Brigadier General Nico Tak said.
Despite this, no one seems to want to call what is going on in Ukraine an invasion.
Asked by Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC on Thursday why the United States has favored terms like "incursion" and "aggression" instead of "invasion" to characterize the situation in Ukraine, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said, "I think this is a discussion about terminology" and that it doesn't change the kind of support the U.S. is giving Ukraine and the discussions U.S. officials are conducting."
"Escalation of aggression by the Russians has been a pattern over the last several months," Psaki said. She said that this would be a main issue discussed at the NATO summit next week, and that there are "sanctions we could still do, a range of tools at our disposal."
The U.S. Ambassador to NATO, Douglas Lute, is also avoiding the term, despite calling Russia's actions "the most severe challenge to European security since the end of the Cold War."
"NATO leaders will meet with Ukrainian President Poroshenko to discuss the crisis caused by Russia's illegal aggression, the most severe challenge to European security since the end of the Cold War," Lute wrote in a blog post about next week's NATO summit.
Other U.S. officials, like National Security Adviser Susan Rice, have also stuck with words like "escalation" and "incursion."
Part of the reason for this is that using the word "invasion" would force the United States into a rhetorical corner and require them to respond in some way, while making diplomacy with the Russians over this issue more difficult — and Russian President Vladimir Putin has proved himself adept at the kind of drawn-out invasions that also allow the United States to avoid using the dreaded I-word.
Other Western leaders are mirroring the U.S. rhetoric, including U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, who said on Thursday that "I'm extremely concerned by mounting evidence that Russian troops have made large-scale incursions into South Eastern Ukraine, completely disregarding the sovereignty of a neighbor" and warned Russia of "further consequences."