Putin says Russia is open to diplomacy but won't compromise on its security

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MOSCOW, Feb 23 (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Russia was always open to diplomacy but put its own national security interests first and would continue to strengthen its military in the face of what he called a difficult international situation.

Putin, speaking in a video statement released to coincide with the annual Defender of the Fatherland Day, did not mention his standoff with the West over Ukraine which has seen Western sanctions imposed on Russia after he decided to recognise the independence of two breakaway Ukrainian regions.

But he used the appearance to send a message to the West about his stance over the issue all the same.

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"Our country is always open to a direct and honest dialogue and ready to search for diplomatic solutions to the most complicated issues," said Putin.

"But I want to repeat that Russia's interests and the security of our people are unconditional. So, we will continue to strengthen and modernise our army and navy."

The United States has accused Putin of massing more than 150,000 troops near Ukraine's borders in preparation for what it fears could be a full-scale invasion. Russia has repeatedly denied plans for such an attack but says it has a duty to protect people living in the two breakaway regions.

"We can see the difficult international situation and the threats posed by current challenges, such as the erosion of the arms control system and NATO’s military activities," said Putin.

"And yet, Russia’s appeals to build a system based on equal and indivisible security that would reliably defend all countries, remain unanswered."

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Reporting by Alexander Marrow Editing by Andrew Osborn

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