Russia on Thursday stepped up its airstrikes against Ukrainian ports vital to the world’s food supply, as the White House warned that the Kremlin had mined sea lanes and may be setting the stage for attacks on commercial transport ships.

Moscow has already warned shipping companies that they are now crossing the Russian blockade in the Black Sea at their own risk, and could be treated as military targets. The warning came days after Russia pulled out of a multinational deal that allowed desperately needed Ukrainian grain to reach the world market.

In a further sign of rising tensions, Ukraine on Thursday issued its own warning: Ships bound for Russian ports or ports in occupied Ukraine, the Defense Ministry said, will now be considered to be carrying “military cargo, with all the corresponding risks.”

In Washington, a White House official accused Moscow at a press conference of engaging in a false flag operation to implicate Ukraine in case Russia attacked a ship. The waters where Russia is said to have placed the mines are in an area already mined by Ukraine to deter an amphibious assault.

White House official John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, pointed to Russia’s release a day earlier of a video showing what it claimed was the detection and detonation of a Ukrainian sea mine.

“We believe this is rather a concerted effort to justify any attacks on civilian vessels in the Black Sea, and then blame them on Ukraine,” Mr Kirby said.

Despite Moscow’s own warnings about shipping suits, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, on Thursday denied that it intended to attack civilian ships, according to state media.

The Ukrainian ports were not the only place where Russia and its allies flexed their muscles.

A week and a half after Sweden secured a deal to join NATO, whose expansion angered the Kremlin, Belarus, a close Russian ally, said on Thursday that mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group were training troops on the border with Poland, a member of the Western military alliance.

And President Vladimir V. Putin traveled to the Russian city of Murmansk — which Russian news media clearly noted was near the border of NATO’s newest member, Finland.

The grain deal, reached last summer, was perhaps the only bright spot in a bleak year and a half of conflict, easing the threat of famine in countries dependent on Ukrainian exports. With the deal’s apparent demise, wheat prices have soared, jumping 12 percent since Monday.

However fierce the stance on both sides, analysts said widespread hostilities in the Black Sea seemed unlikely.

“The main goal for the Russians is to decimate the Ukrainian economy, and if they could do that without firing a shot, they would be happy,” said Sidharth Kaushal, a research fellow in sea power at the Royal United Services Institute, a defense and security research group based in London.

The basic calculation for Russia, he said, has not changed: to damage Ukraine’s economy and free itself from Western sanctions without widening a war in which it is already stumbling.

“You can say it’s a show of weakness in the broader strategic sense of the term, right?” said Mr. Kaushal. “The need to focus on things like eroding Ukraine’s economy reflects the fact that they can’t make progress on the ground the way they thought they could at this time last year.

The Russian strategy is to use the threats against merchant shipping to drive up insurance premiums, hoping the financial pain will cut off grain shipments and force the West to make concessions on some of the sanctions that stifle Russian trade, analysts said.

Now it is a matter of whether commercial ships will risk crossing the Black Sea, what the insurances might be and whether the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, will be able to find alternative routes for the country’s grain.

Before the grain deal was struck, Ukraine increased exports by truck, train and river barge. Now, with the grain again stuck at the ports, it is still most likely to be able to export most of its wheat, corn, barley and sunflower seeds through alternative routes, Rabobank, a Dutch bank, said on Thursday. But the cost of transport will become more expensive, and rail infrastructure will have a higher risk of Russian attacks, experts said.

Since withdrawing from the grain deal on Monday, Russia has launched a series of attacks on the Ukrainian port cities of Odessa and Mykolaiv, with some appearing to target grain export infrastructure, Ukrainian officials say.

In Chornomorsk, just south of Odessa, 60,000 tons of grain waiting to be loaded onto ships were destroyed, according to Ukraine’s agriculture minister. That is enough to feed more than 270,000 people for a year, according to the World Food Program.

Josep Borrell Fontelles, the top diplomat of the European Union, said that Russia has not only withdrawn from the grain agreement, “but they are also burning the grain”.

“What we already know is that this is going to create a big, huge food crisis in the world,” he told reporters ahead of an EU meeting in Brussels.

On Thursday, both ports were hit again.

At least 19 people, including one child, were injured in Mykolaiv, a short distance up an estuary from the Black Sea, after an explosion started a fire at a residential building, according to Vitaly Kimthe head of the regional military administration.

Nearby, Odessa, already reeling from two nights of some of the biggest attacks on the city since the start of the war, was targeted again, resulting in a large fire in the city center, according to the regional military administrator. At least one person was found dead under the rubble of a destroyed building, Oleh Kiper, the Odesa regional governor, said in a poster in the Telegram messaging app.

The US warning about Russian actions in the Black Sea was somewhat reminiscent of those made by the White House in the months before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, when officials repeatedly said there were signs of an imminent attack in the hope of preventing it. They later took a similar approach when it appeared that China was considering supplying Russia with weapons for the war.

On Thursday, speaking to reporters, Mr. Kirby, the spokesman for the National Security Council, said, “We felt it was important to sound that warning and explain what we see and what we believe that Russia is really here.”

Reporting was contributed by Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Victoria Kim, Ivan Nechepurenko and Jenny Gross.

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