Vostok, Zapad Battalions Downgraded

Two elite military battalions in Chechnya that report directly to Moscow are to be downsized in a move expected to further cement Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov's control over the southern republic.

The Vostok and Zapad battalions, which reported directly to the Defense Ministry, will be reformed into companies within the 42nd motorized division stationed in Chechnya, said Vladimir Moltenskoi, deputy head of the Army.

Moltenskoi announced the reorganization at a Saturday meeting with Kadyrov in Grozny, RIA-Novosti reported. Both battalions will be downsized from 700 servicemen to 150 servicemen and will lose their status as elite units, Kommersant reported Monday.

The move will abolish the only remaining armed formations in the republic manned primarily by ethnic Chechens and not led by Kadyrov loyalists.

The Vostok battalion has a recent history of violent clashes involving a standoff between Kadyrov and brothers Sulim, Ruslan and Badruddi Yamadayev, former Chechen rebels who led a powerful clan based in Gudermes.

Ruslan Yamadayev was shot dead in a contract-style hit in central Moscow in September, and no suspects have been arrested in the case.

Sulim Yamadayev, the former Vostok commander, is considered Kadyrov's chief rival in Chechnya. His whereabouts are unclear.