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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chechen Rebels Kill 19 in Intense Clashes

Intensified attacks by Chechen independence fighters left 19 Russian soldiers dead, an official said Tuesday, in one of the bloodiest days recently in the rebel region.

Forty-nine soldiers were wounded in the fighting, which took place over the preceding 24 hours, said the official in the Kremlin-appointed civilian administration of Akhmad Kadyrov.

Clashes included 25 hit-and-run attacks on Russian checkpoints and headquarters, in which 11 servicemen died, the spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Soldiers are killed almost daily as the fighting in Chechnya grinds on, though the figures announced Tuesday were roughly double the routine official casualty counts — which themselves may be underreported.

Kadyrov arrived in Moscow on Tuesday to discuss with Kremlin officials his plans to form a local government. According to his Moscow spokesman, Ramazan Ibragimov, Kadyrov hopes his new Chechnya government will win greater local control over the secessionist republic’s affairs.

In particular, Ibragimov said, Kadyrov wants to control the distribution of federal subsidies. He would also like to have federal troops in Chechnya withdrawn from road blocks and confined to barracks, in order to end the practice of servicemen at road blocks detaining and harassing civilians to extort bribes.

Alexander Iskandryan, head of the Center for Caucasian Studies, said he expected Kadyrov might get a Kremlin green light for his local Cabinet, but even if he did, as long as the fighting with separatists continues, Kadyrov will never be able to wrest control of the republic from the Russian armed forces. "And this fighting will go on for many, many years," Iskandryan said.

Russian military commanders now control the disbursement of most federal subsidies sent to Chechnya. Some remaining subsidies are administered either by Kadyrov or by Vladimir Yelagin, the recently named minister charged with finding a cure to Chechnya’s "socio-economic problems."

Yelagin told reporters Tuesday that President Vladimir Putin may issue a decree by next week to formally establish a Chechen government to replace that of President Aslan Maskhadov, whose legitimacy Moscow no longer recognizes.

But the very creation of Yelagin’s new ministry for Chechen affairs shows the Kremlin’s confidence in Kadyrov has waned, according to Alexei Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center. "Kadyrov has only partially come up to [the Kremlin’s] expectations," he said.

Iskandryan agreed, but added that if Kadyrov has not brought order to Chechnya, neither have federal troops — who rarely venture outside their bases at night. "All these people are busy forging the illusion of a functioning vertical of power in the republic, so that it won’t look like a complete colonial regime to the international community," Iskandryan said.

(AP, MT)