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Biden calls Ukraine leader, offers condolences

US Vice President Joe Biden called Ukraine’s leader Petro Poroshenko Saturday and offered condolences for the deaths of soldiers facing off with pro-Russian militants in the country’s east.

Separatists killed 19 troops in a hail of heavy rocket fire on Friday near the Russian border in a bloody reminder of their resolve to reverse the recent tide of government gains across the region.

The military said four other soldiers died elsewhere on Friday and seven more were killed overnight in attacks that also wounded more than 120 soldiers.

During the call, “President Poroshenko informed the Vice President about the latest separatist attacks using heavy weapons on Ukrainian forces and the Vice President expressed his condolences for the loss of life,” the White House said.

Biden expressed support for Poroshenko’s efforts to convene a meeting to discuss a possible ceasefire with the separatists, as the Western backed leader’s top aide said all talks with the rebels were off and that the only possible side that could be involved in negotiations was Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Biden also told Poroshenko of “ongoing US diplomatic efforts to work with our international partners to impose costs on Russia if it continues on its current course of providing the separatists with heavy weapons and equipment.”

The White House released details of the call just hours after the Brazilian government said Poroshenko had accepted an invitation to attend Sunday’s World Cup football final in Rio de Janeiro, where Putin will also be present.

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