The news focus on Presidents Day was of Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin, as he ordered troops to enter two separatist regions of Ukraine for “peacekeeping” purposes after he recognized their independence.
Cable news networks carried parts of Putin’s speech, with his move viewed by correspondents and foreign policy analysts as another step toward war.
The White House responded with a vow to begin imposing sanctions, with President Joe Biden poised to issue an executive order to prohibit trade, investment and financing in those areas.
“To be clear: these measures are separate from and would be in addition to the swift and severe economic measures we have been preparing in coordination with Allies and partners should Russia further invade Ukraine,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
David Muir, with an ABC News special report, said that Putin’s move was one that “leaders in the West had been most concerned about that could possibly spark a much larger conflict.” He said that it would “likely forcing the U.S. and allies to impose severe sanctions they said would be coming.”
On Fox News, Jennifer Griffin said that Putin, in his speech, “essentially outlined why he did not believe Ukraine has the right to exist as a separate nation.”
“This was a cold and calculated speech in which he blamed past Soviet leaders like Nikita Khrushchev for giving in to Ukrainian nationalism,” Griffin said. “It is the kind of speech that is reminiscent of those delivered on the eve of World War II before Hitler invaded Poland. ‘For some reason, Khrushchev gave Ukraine separate status,’ Putin said, with disdain. Why did we have to be so generous and then give these republics the right to leave. Madness. He said. He sounded like a Russian czar. Then, he added, a veiled threat to Ukrainians who tore down Lenin statues after the breakup of the Soviet Union.” She said that Putin “has made his opening gambit, and he will want to see the response from the U.S. and its allies.”
NBC News’ Keir Simmons, In Moscow, cautioned, “I think you got to be very careful to take one step at a time, to report what we are being told by intelligence analysts, but to not over read. What we saw in Crimea was President Putin’s forces go in with barely any conflict at all. It’s possible that we now see that in Donbas [which includes Donetsk and Luhansk] because Ukraine, Kyiv, will be desperate for there not to be further conflict. Plainly, it breaks the Minsk agreement so I think we will see these sanctions come into play.” He added, “Are there then the next steps by the Russians? Are there then just the nature of conflict? Does it spiral? We don’t know yet.”
Biden has been meeting with his national security team and talked to French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, as well as Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky.
Networks have been sending additional correspondents to the region in the past week, as the crisis has escalated and the White House has warned that an invasion is imminent.
Martha Raddatz, anchoring This Week from Ukraine on Sunday, noted that the White House “has made specific predictions about the timing and the course of the Russian invasion despite the obvious risk to American credibility. They could be wrong.” Senior White House correspondent Mary Bruce told her that it was an “astounding strategy for this administration. They have been pulling back the curtain of U.S. intelligence every step of the way, trying to call out Putin, trying to share what they know, the details about his apparent attempts to build a case for war, trying to call out the misinformation and the lies about his playbook to justify an invasion. It is all an attempt to try to beat Putin at his own game.”