Amid charges from U.S. and foreign officials that Russia now has invaded eastern sectors of Ukraine, a senior administration official confirmed that Moscow has maintained forces inside the region for nearly a decade.
"Russian troops moving into Donbas would not itself be a new step," the official said. "Russia has had forces in the Donbas region for the past eight years."
The official made the comments during a background briefing with reporters on Monday, and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The comments seem to contradict official White House declarations that by sending in troops to the region, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an incursion against its western neighbor.
"This is the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine," President Joe Biden said on Tuesday from the White House.
Other politicians have echoed those terms when responding to reports that Putin sent forces into the separatist enclaves of Donetsk and Luhansk.
"Putin has launched an invasion that must be met with a crippling and sustained economic response," Democratic Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly told constituents on Tuesday.
The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told members of the U.N. Security Council on Monday that Putin sent "peacekeepers" to Donbas as a “pretext" for invading all of Ukraine.
"He calls them peacekeepers," Thomas-Greenfield said of the troops. "This is nonsense. We know what they really are."
The Russian military, though, has been in eastern Ukraine since Russia absorbed Crimea, the senior administration official said. For the past eight years, the official noted, Moscow has denied what U.S. officials knew to be true, that Russian troops are stationed in Donbas.
"They're apparently now making a decision to do this in a more overt and open way," the official said. "But this has been the state of affairs in that region and a big part of why it has been so unstable since 2014."
Members of the U.S. military who have trained the Ukrainian armed forces say that they, too, have known about the Russian troops in Donetsk and Luhansk.
"Their presence is nothing new," one active duty American intelligence officer told Just the News. "We've seen artillery being used in Donbas. Rag-tag civilian rebels don't have artillery."
By ramping up the troop count inside Donbas, Russia no longer is keeping their presence a secret, the administration official said.
"Now Russia looks like it's going to be operating openly in that region, and we are going to be responding accordingly," the official said.