US warns Russia may strike civilian Black Sea ships in false flag attack
White House says Russia may be laying groundwork 'to justify any attacks against civilian ships' in Black Sea
By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - Russia may be seeking to attack merchant vessels in the Black Sea carrying Ukrainian grain to world markets in a potential "false flag" operation, the White House warned Thursday.
National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby pointed to Russia's prior warning that all ships traveling in the Black Sea bound for Ukrainian ports will be considered as carrying military cargo "even though they are simply trying to pick up aid and food that will feed people around the world."
Kirby said US intelligence indicates Russia has laid additional sea mines in the entryways to Ukrainian ports, and said Moscow's release of a video on Wednesday claiming to show the detonation of an alleged Ukrainian sea mine is part of "a coordinated effort to justify any attacks against civilian ships in the Black Sea, and then blame them on Ukraine."
"It's obviously something we're going to be watching very, very closely. But we felt it was important to sound that warning, and to make that clear, what we're seeing, and what we believe Russia is really up to here in the northern Black Sea," he added.
The comments come just three days after Russia suspended its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal brokered by the UN and Türkiye that helped alleviate global food insecurity worsened by Moscow's invasion of its eastern European neighbor.
The deal was signed in July 2022 to resume grain exports from three Ukrainian Black Sea ports after Russia began its war in February of that year.
Kirby said that any slide backward towards greater food instability is due solely to Russia's decision to halt its participation in the pact.
"There's one and only one country responsible for that, and that's Russia, and that's Mr. Putin and we certainly would hope that they see that the same way the rest of the world sees that," he said in reference to nations that may see their food supplies wane.
- Cluster munitions
Kirby separately confirmed that Ukrainian forces have been "appropriately" using cluster munitions sent to bolster their effort to oust Russia from territories it continues to occupy.
"They're using them effectively, and they are actually having an impact on Russia's defensive formations, and Russia's defensive maneuvering," he said.
In 2008, more than 100 countries signed a convention to ban the production, stockpiling, use and transfer of cluster bombs, which release large numbers of smaller bomblets that can kill indiscriminately over a wide area.
"Dud" munitions, or bomblets that fail to explode as intended have killed and maimed civilians across a wide swathe of battlefields where they have been employed, sometimes decades after they are initially used.
That has been particularly true in Southeast Asia where the US dropped hundreds of millions of cluster bombs during the Vietnam War.
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