Mar 26, 9:48 AM EDT

Putin says Russia will stand firm in standoff with West

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MOSCOW (AP) -- President Vladimir Putin on Thursday voiced confidence that Russia will come out as a winner in its standoff with the West if it firmly stands its ground.

Speaking before senior officials of the Federal Security Service, the main successor to the KGB agency, Putin said "the situation around our country will change for the better, but not because we will make concessions, bend down or trifle with someone."

"It will change for the better only if we become stronger," he said.

The Russian leader accused the West of using "attempts at political isolation, economic pressure, large-scale information war and instruments of special services" to weaken Russia.

He named the deployment of NATO's forces near Russian borders, the development of the alliance's U.S.-led missile defense program, and a U.S. program of developing high-precision long-range conventional weapons among the top threats.

"No one has succeeded in scaring our country or pressuring it and no one will," he added.

Russia's relations with the West have plunged to the lowest point since the Cold War over the Ukrainian crisis. The United States and the European Union have slapped painful economic sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and support for insurgents in eastern Ukraine.

Putin, a KGB veteran, praised the agency, known under its Russian acronym FSB, for its efforts to catch foreign spies, saying it exposed 52 foreign intelligence officers and 290 of their agents last year alone.

He added that a top priority for the FSB now should be tracking Russian citizens who have left to fight alongside the Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

"Later they could be used against us, against Russia and its neighbors," Putin said. "So it's important to take additional measures to cut international links and resource base of the terrorists, block avenues for their entry and exit from Russia."

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