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As Russia bombs Ukraine ports and threatens ships, U.S. says Putin "using food as a weapon" against the world

Russia bombards Black Sea port cities
Russia accused of weaponizing food shipments as it bombards Ukrainian port cities 01:59

Kyiv — Parts of Ukraine's Black Sea port cities of Odesa and Mykolaiv were engulfed in flames again in the early hours of Thursday after another night of Russian bombardment. Ukrainian military officials said the country's air defenses shot down five cruise missiles and 13 attack drones, but from the damage in the vital port cities, it was clear they hadn't stopped all of Russia's rockets.

More than 20 civilians were wounded in the latest wave of attacks, including five children, according to Ukrainian emergency services. It was the third straight night that Russia had taken aim at the ports, right on the heels of Moscow pulling out of a deal that had allowed Ukraine's cargo ships safe passage through Russia's Black Sea blockade.

Aftermath of a Russian missile attack in Odesa
A firefighter works at the site of an administrative building heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike in Odesa, Ukraine, July 20, 2023, in a photo provided by Ukraine's national emergency service. State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Handout/REUTERS

Moscow has now issued a stark new warning: That it will consider any ship sailing through those waters a potential military target.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying it "strongly condemns any threats to use force against civilian ships, regardless of their flag."

The Russian warning was also raising alarm in Washington and European capitals.

"I think it ought to be quite clear to everyone in the world right now that Russia is using food as a weapon of war, not just against the Ukrainian people, but against all the people in the world, especially the most underdeveloped countries who depend on grain from the region, " State Department spokesman Matt Miller said Wednesday.

European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell condemned Russia's recent strikes on grain storage facilities in Odesa and Mykolaiv, which he said had burned "more than 60,000 tons of grain."

Inside a Ukrainian village under constant attack from both sides 03:31

"The fact that the Russian president has canceled the grain agreement and is now bombing the port of Odesa is not only another attack on Ukraine, but an attack on the people, on the poorest people in the world," said German Foreign Affairs Minister Annalena Baerbock. "Hundreds of thousands of people, not to say millions, urgently need grain from Ukraine."

Another threat appeared to have reemerged on the horizon in northern Ukraine, meanwhile. Videos posted on social media appeared to show Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin addressing his fighters in neighboring Belarus — berating Russia's front-line commanders in Ukraine as a "disgrace" to their nation.

It's the first time Prigozhin has been seen since he launched an apparent mutiny and sent his forces marching toward Moscow last month, vowing to topple Russia's military commanders in what was seen as a major challenge to President Vladmir Putin's authority.

Examining the state of Wagner Group as Ukraine receives cluster bombs 04:28

In the latest videos, Prigozhin hinted that his forces would be "preparing" for a possible return to fighting in Ukraine, or in his words: "Waiting for the moment when we can prove ourselves in full."

In Poland, which shares portions of its eastern border with Ukraine and Belarus,  the defense ministry issued a statement saying it was monitoring the situation and was prepared for any eventuality after Belarus confirmed that Wagner mercenaries would take part in military exercises and help train its troops near the border.

"Poland's borders are secure, we are monitoring the situation on our eastern border on an ongoing basis and we are prepared for various scenarios as the situation develops," the Reuters news agency quoted the ministry's statement as saying.

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