Ukraine Crisis: When Is An 'Incursion' An 'Invasion?'

U.S. officials have described Russian actions in eastern Ukraine as an "incursion," while Ukraine has condemned what it calls a "full-scale invasion."

Ukraine Crisis: When Is An 'Incursion' An 'Invasion?'
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​Not only can world leaders not agree on how to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine, they can’t agree on terminology to describe it, either.

​UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER ARSENIY YATSENUK: “Russian military boots are on Ukrainian ground.” (Video via Ukraine Today

Ukraine is calling it a “full-scale invasion” — accusing Russia of directly helping the separatists by providing them with heavy weaponry and armored vehicles. (Video via BBC

​But U.S. officials have stopped short of using the same word.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: “This ongoing Russian incursion into Ukraine will only bring more costs and consequences for Russia."  (Video via The White House

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: “What’s the difference between an illegal incursion by Russia into Ukraine and an invasion.”

JEN PSAKI, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: “Whatever it is called it doesn’t change the options that the United States is considering.”

The head of the Center for the Study of Modern Conflict at Scotland's University of Edinburgh offered Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty some insight on the difference in terminology. "An invasion would suggest that there's an air of permanence about whether or not these troops are going to stay … An incursion is more limited, and it would suggest that maybe these troops are there temporarily.”

While Ukraine and its Western allies tossed around the words invasion and incursion, Russian President Vladimir Putin dropped an obscure, but historically significant, reference.

In this official Kremlin statement released Thursday, Putin used the word “Novorossiya.” It's an old term translating to “New Russia” once used to describe regions controlled by imperial Russia.

Vox’s Max Fisher says Putin’s use of the term was no accident and “sounds an awful lot like a rhetorical step toward annexing all or part of the rebel-held territory."  

NATO would probably agree. It estimates about 1,000 highly trained Russian troops are operating within Ukraine, with another 20,000 massed along the eastern border. (Video via Euronews) 

DUTCH BRIGADIER GENERAL NICO TAK: “Russian combat soldiers equipped with heavy weaponry are operating inside Ukraine’s sovereign territory.” (Video via NATO)

Russia denies the troops are there and says the 10 soldiers captured last week were there “by accident.”

That prompted this tweet from NATO’s Canadian delegation. A map with the message “geography can be tough.”

Not to be outdone, Russia’s mission to NATO responded with a map of its own. You can see Crimea is clearly marked as Russian territory.

The war of maps came just before Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko met with European leaders in Brussels Saturday. It’s believed the European Union is preparing additional sanctions on Russia.

This video includes images from Getty Images.