US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Kyiv in May as part of preparations for a Biden-Putin summit this summer,

 CNN has reported, citing a Ukrainian government official. Blinken has already spoken to his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, several times since taking office in January, including two weeks ago in Brussels. “A proper Ukraine strategy needs two parts,” Daniel Fried, who served as US Ambassador to Poland in the late 1990s, told CNN. “One arm around their shoulder to help them resist aggression from the Kremlin and a foot on their back to get them to fix things at home,

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu declared military drills near Ukraine to be over

and that units would be withdrawn to their bases in central and eastern Russia. Anticipating more drills later this year, he said soldiers would leave large weapons in place, largely in Pogonovo firing range two hours east of Kharkiv. Russian restrictions on flights near Crimea are to expire tomorrow. But the ban on foreign government ships from the southern approaches to the Kerch Strait is to remain in place through late October.

Russia’s naval exercises cover 27% of the Black Sea,

according an Axios story that cites “an internal document from Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense.” “Russia has been holding last-minute military exercises near commercial shipping lanes in the Black Sea that threaten to strangle Ukraine’s economy,” starts the story reported from Washington. Projecting Russia’s intelligence gathering into the Black Sea, Russia has installed radars on natural gas platforms that it seized from Ukraine’s Chernomorneftegaz in 2014, Axios says.

Russia has blocked the airspace over Crimea and parts of the Black Sea through Saturday,

 Interfax has reported from Moscow, citing an official NOTAM, or international ‘notice to airmen.’ NOTAM said yesterday, “The area has been declared temporarily dangerous for aircraft flights.” Russia is conducting aviation drills with Sukhoi Su-25 attack aircraft, and has closed the airspace up to 19,000 meters, or 62,000 feet. For comparison, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was flying at 33,000 feet on July 17, 2014, when it was shot down by a Buk surface to air missile fired from Russia-controlled Donbas.

The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, yesterday announced that 150,000 Russian troops are concentrated on Ukraine’s eastern border and in Crimea

. Noting that the deployment includes field hospitals, he warned that only “a spark” could set off a conflict. On Saturday, four large landing ships from Russia’s Baltic and Northern fleets entered the Black Sea. From the east, 15 smaller ships from Russia’s Caspian Flotilla also entered the Black Sea. Russia’s Southern Military District said Saturday that over 50 aircraft were involved in an exercise over the Black Sea.

The US, UK, and the EU have protested Russia’s ban on Ukrainian and foreign navy ships from the southern approach to the Kerch Strait

. With the ban starting Saturday and lasting for six months, shippers worry that the ban will lead to curbs on shipping to Ukraine’s two ports on the Sea of Azov – Berdyansk and Mariupol. NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu posted on Twitter: “We call on Russia to ensure free access to Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov, and allow freedom of navigation.”

In coming days, two British warships – one destroyer and one frigate – are to enter the Black Sea,

 reported London’s Sunday Times. With foreign aircraft carriers effectively banned from the Black Sea by the 1936 Montreux Convention, the flagship of the Royal Navy’s carrier group, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, will remain nearby, in the Eastern Mediterranean, with its 60 aircraft. The Montreux Convention limits warships from non-Black Sea nations to three weeks in the Black Sea. Consequently, two US Navy destroyers, the USS Donald Cook and USS Roosevelt, are monitoring Black Sea developments from the coast of Crete, a two-day sail from

Russia’s naval deployments in the Black and Azov Seas threaten to “block important trade routes in international waters,”

Ukraine’s Defense Minister Andriy Taran warned the European Parliament’s subcommittee on Security and Defense on Wednesday. The bulk of Ukraine’s $103 billion in foreign trade last year moved by ship. Taran has predicted: “The total number of Russian troops concentrated along the Ukrainian borders in this direction will reach 56 battalion tactical groups with 110 thousand troops.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry is closing the Kerch Strait to Ukrainian Navy and Sea Guard boats for six months,

starting from Saturday April 24 through October. Commercial shipping is allowed passage. The Ukrainian Navy reported on Facebook: “Tonight, in the Azov Sea, Russian Federal Security Service boats attempted to obstruct the legal actions of the Navy of Ukraine boat group.” That confrontation did not end in a clash.

On the pretext of naval maneuvers, Russia is closing major swaths of the Black Sea and several approaches R

. On the Azov, the Mariupol port often ranks as Ukraine’s fifth busiest port, largely due to exports from Metinvest’s large scale Ilyich Iron and Steel Works. “This step is a gross violation of the right to freedom of navigation,” Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry protested yesterday. “The Russian Federation should not impede or interfere with transit passage through the international strait to ports in the Sea of Azov.”

By the end of April, Russia will have amassed an armada of 50 warships patrolling the Black and Azov Seas

, calculated the Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor. Bolstering the Black Sea fleet, four large ships from the Baltic Fleet are making their way to the Black Sea. In addition, 15 smaller vessels from Russia’s Caspian Flotilla are making their way through the 100 km Volga-Don Canal. The ships from the Baltic and Caspian are equipped for marine landings.

Russia’s Navy threatens Ukraine’s sea routes, S&P Global Platts has warned in a story headlined:

“Russian escalation in Ukraine yet to faze commodity markets.” “Russia could close off Ukrainian ports due to its control of Crimea and Black Sea chokepoints,” the authors warn. “Any limitation of vessels through the Kerch Strait would likely affect supply routes used by Metinvest, the Ukrainian mining and steel group, and other bulk shipping on the route.”

Timothy Ash, the Senior Emerging Markets Sovereign Strategist for Bluebay Asset Management, writes from London:

“This is not good news for Russia. The result of these actions will inevitably be that fewer foreign investors will want to buy Russian debt which means higher borrowing costs, less investment and growth and a further tightening of the economic constraints around Putin.  The US is signaling that there are lots more things it can still do on the sanctions front unless Russia changes its behavior.”

“Ukraine turns to Turkey as Russia threatens full-scale war,

” reported Al Jazeera. Noting that it was President Zelenskiy’s second visit in six months to Turkey, the report said: “Ankara views Ukraine as a crucial buffer against Russia and has been a strong advocate for its acceptance into the NATO alliance.” Highlighting the wide spectrum of defense industry cooperation, the articles noted: “Turkey is working with Ukrainian companies to develop diesel engines for its fifth-generation fighter jet and main battle tank.”

Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s border and in Crimea

“has also pushed Ukrainian sovereign bonds to their lowest level since November,” Reuters reported last night. Adamant Capital elaborated: “The price of Ukraine’s 11-year benchmark Eurobond (2032) has tumbled over the past week (by roughly 370 bps) signaling investor concerns over the possibility of a military escalation.” From the other side, the Russian ruble dropped yesterday to 77 to the dollar, its lowest level since November.

Adamant analysts said:

“We lean towards Moscow’s actions being more of a show of force rather than a real preparation for a confrontation…Crossing over [into the Donbas] once more, especially with the world closely watching, would completely destroy Putin’s narrative of the conflict being Ukraine’s internal affair.”

After seven years of war, 71% of Ukrainian poll respondents consider Russia the aggressor in the Russia-Ukraine conflict,

according to a poll conducted last week by the Rating Sociological group. The survey of 2,500 people was conducted before Russian TV aired video of dozens of Russian armored vehicles and self-propelled guns crossing the Kerch Strait bridge. In the poll, 45% of respondents supported restoring water supplies to Crimea and 48% did not support it.