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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Denies Large-Scale Fighting in Chechnya

Russia denied Monday reports of large-scale fighting and military losses in rebel Chechnya, saying there had only been minor attacks and shooting.

News agencies had reported running street battles between Russian forces and Chechen rebels in Gudermes, the restive region's second town, on Sunday and rebel spokesman Movladi Udugov said fighters had killed at least 20 Russian soldiers and two pro-Moscow Chechen policemen.

"There were no large-scale clashes, much less any mass attacks by militants in Gudermes," said an official in the office of Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the Kremlin's chief spokesman on Chechnya.

"Similarly, there was no eight-hour battle. The shooting was intensive, but rather short," the official said. "We cannot speak about 20 dead because that is simply absurd."

Russian troops are nominally in control of most of Chechnya after a 15-month offensive and President Vladimir Putin is extending powers to pro-Moscow Chechen leaders to try to restore the region's economy and institutions.

The official in Yastrzhembsky's office confirmed reports of an attack on a local police post by rebels, resulting in the deaths of four officers. Itar-Tass reported Sunday that the fighting broke out after rebels fired on a police post, killing an officer of the crack OMON riot police force.

He also confirmed reports of a bomb explosion in a cafe in Gudermes, which injured several civilians and one soldier.

Yastrzhembsky's office said four Chechen policemen were killed in the fighting and some rebels were wounded. Udogov, speaking by satellite telephone from an undisclosed location, said the rebels had suffered only three wounded.

Putin signed a decree on Friday extending the powers of local leaders in Chechnya, a day after he told ministers to draft proposals on reducing troops and boosting the economy of the breakaway province.

Russian military chiefs have said they want to use small, mobile units to eliminate the rebels. But troops remain subject to ambushes and at least 2,500 have died in the current drive.

Itar-Tass quoted a spokesman for the Interior Ministry as saying they believed the clashes were related to the opening of a Council of Europe session in Strasbourg on Monday, where delegates will discuss the situation in Chechnya. He called the fighting a "provocation."