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Putin, Poroshenko held two rounds of fruitless talks: Kiev

Kiev said Thursday that President Petro Poroshenko and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin held two fruitless phone talks about the war in eastern Ukraine over the past month that had gone undisclosed.

Poroshenko’s press office said the rare contacts between the foes came during a severe flare-up in fighting between government forces and Russian-backed separatists last month.

The upsurge in violence killed 35 people in early February and centred around the government-held town of Avdiivka.

“Because these talks were fruitless, there was no separate statement made about them,” the Ukrainian presidency said.

The Kremlin said it could confirm that “several” conversations took place, but insisted there was no direct discussion on establishing a ceasefire around Avdiivka.

“There was an exchange of views and an expression of mutual concern about the escalating tensions,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Direct conversations between Putin and Poroshenko have become increasingly rare as the conflict that has cost some 10,000 lives has dragged on for nearly three years.

They usually occur in the presence of the leaders of Germany of France — co-sponsors of a stalled February 2015 peace deal that has helped contain some of the fighting but not end the war.

It remained unclear who initiated the calls.

Ukraine said and that the leaders of France and Germany helped to coordinate the conversations in advance.

The conflict — and Russia’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 — have pushed ties between Moscow and the West to their lowest point since the Cold War.

Kiev on Thursday said three of its soldiers were killed and another nine wounded across various parts of the industrial war zone since Tuesday.

Ukraine is nervously waiting and watching to see if new US President Donald Trump will alter Washington’s staunch support for Ukraine in a bid to improve ties with Putin.

Russia denies backing or plotting the fighting to keep the pro-Western leadership in Ukraine under its thumb.