Russia is considering launching attacks on merchant ships carrying Ukrainian grain in the Black Sea and then blaming Kiev, a White House official said Wednesday.

“The Russian military may expand its targeting” of Ukrainian facilities and grain transport and “include attacks on civilian ships,” Adam Hodge, a spokesman for the US presidency’s National Security Council, told AFP.

The charge is based on intelligence-gathered information that has been declassified, the spokesman explained.

Washington’s complaint comes after Moscow’s refusal on Monday to extend an agreement that allowed Ukrainian grain exports through Black Sea ports and after airstrikes last Tuesday and Wednesday against grain terminals in the port of Odesa.

“Our information indicates that Russia has planted new mines near Ukrainian ports,” Mr Hodge said. “We consider this to be part of a concerted effort to justify any attack on civilian ships in the Black Sea and blame it on Ukraine,” he insisted.

Moscow announced earlier yesterday that it would consider any ship headed for a Ukrainian port in the Black Sea a military target.

For its part, Kiev is demanding that international escort be offered to the cargo ships after the termination of the agreement that allowed the export of grain.