The United States has information that the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Navy "is under orders to effectively blockade the Ukrainian ports of Odesa and Ochakiv," a US official told CNN, citing what was described as recently declassified intelligence.
According to this official, that intelligence also revealed indications that Russian forces are deploying mines in the Black Sea and have previously mined the Dnipro River.
Western officials have accused Moscow of "weaponizing" food supplies as leaders and experts warn of a looming food crisis with millions of tons of Ukrainian grain unable to reach to global market due to the war.
"We can confirm that despite Russia’s public claims that it is not mining the northwestern Black Sea, Russia actually is deploying mines in the Black Sea near Ochakiv," the US official told CNN Thursday.
The Guardian first reported on the findings of the newly declassified intelligence.
Moscow has claimed it is not impeding agricultural shipments from Ukraine and has said Kyiv must de-mine the waters for the ships to transit.
"The Russian Federation is not creating any obstacles for the passage of ships or vessels. We are not preventing anything," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in early June.
On a call with reporters Thursday, hosted by the US State Department's Africa Regional Media Hub, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said, "We shouldn’t be buying the argument that it’s Ukraine who blocked the sea with its mines in order not to allow the shipment or the vessels to come in and out."
"Russia was mining the sea. We were mining the sea to defend ourselves. The Russians were mining it to — not to allow — to destroy our ships," he said. "The real issue is what happens when the harbor is demined. Who will ensure and how it can be ensured that Russia will not abuse open harbor and attack Odesa from the sea? This is the question that everyone is rattling their minds on: how to make sure that Russia doesn’t attack Odessa from the sea."