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Ukraine tensions: Russia pulls diplomats from Ukraine – but Putin claims he’s still open to talks

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President Vladimir Putin has said Russia is still open to diplomacy but will put its national security interests first.

He said the country would continue to bolster its military amid a “difficult international situation”.

It comes as Russia began evacuating its diplomatic staff from Ukraine, according to the TASS news agency.

In a video statement released to commemorate the annual Defender of the Fatherland Day, Mr Putin appeared to indirectly address the situation in Ukraine despite making no specific mention of the country.

UK keeping some Russia sanctions ‘in locker’ as PM urged to go further on Putin – follow live Ukraine updates

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‘Who does Putin think he is?’

Key developments:
• Ukrainian president calls up army reservists
• White House says Biden-Putin summit ‘not in the plans’ anymore
• US Secretary of State Blinken cancels talks with Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov
• Australia, Canada and Japan join other nations in sanctioning Russia

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

“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.”

Russia is being targeted by sanctions from countries like the US and UK after Mr Putin declared that he recognised the independence of two separatist-held areas in eastern Ukraine and sent in troops.

“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,” Mr Putin said.

“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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Russia-Ukraine crisis: Who’s who?

Russia’s security service said it has foiled “an act of terrorism” in Crimea, the Ukrainian territory Russia annexed in 2014, according to the state-owned RIA news agency.

Six Russian citizens were arrested who were allegedly supporters of a Ukrainian extremist group, the news outlet said.

In response to fears of an invasion, Ukraine will impose a state of emergency, according to the country’s top security official.

Read more: What will happen if Vladimir Putin chooses all-out war?

Oleksiy Danilov said it would last 30 days and could be extended for another 30 days.

Army reservists aged 18-60 are also being conscripted following a decree by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

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Civilians will be given the right to carry firearms and defend themselves after the country’s parliament voted in favour of the measure.

Ukraine ‘needs security guarantees’

Speaking at a news conference, Mr Zelenskyy condemned Russia’s decision to recognise the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk.

“The military presence of the Russian Federation on the occupied territory Donbas has been hiding behind separatist uniform and now we see that this is a unilateral departure from the Minsk agreements,” he said.

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Will Russian sanctions make a difference?

He welcomed sanctions imposed on Russia and the decision to halt the certification of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

He said it was important to “fully stop” the project, which he is described as a “weapon”.

He said Ukraine needs security guarantees now – especially from Russia.

Mr Zelenskyy thanked Poland and Lithuania for supporting Ukraine’s bid to become an EU candidate, which he said would be an “important step” in the unification of the country.

Separatists praise support from ‘big Russia’

A Russian-backed leader in the separatist-held Ukrainian region of Donetsk said he would prefer a peaceful resolution with Ukraine – but said the situation in their long-running conflict with Ukrainian forces had become “critical”.

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‘Sanctions need to be tougher’

Denis Pushilin said the separatists would win with support from “big Russia”.

Asked if separatist forces in Donbass might try to expand their territory, Denis Pushilin said: “We are not at that stage yet.”

He said there are no Russian troops in the Donbas region.

It comes the White House called off a proposed meeting between US President Joe Biden and Mr Putin.

Spokesperson Jen Psaki said that tensions over Ukraine would have to ease before such a meeting took place.

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