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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Troops to Start Chechnya Pullout Next Month

The first Russian army units could start leaving Chechnya as early as next month, the military said Wednesday, while the pro-Moscow head of the region backed a 50 percent cut in troop numbers to 40,000.

President Vladimir Putin has told the FSB domestic security service to take over operations in the separatist republic, where Russia has fought rebels for 15 months, and said some troops would leave.

The FSB's job is to target remaining rebel bands, which regularly attack Russian troops.

A spokesman for the Defence Ministry said no order had yet been issued for any troops to withdraw. But he said it was likely the pullout would begin around the middle of February if the situation remained stable.

Itar-Tass quoted a spokesman for the Moscow military district as saying its troops would quit the region "around the start of February".

Putin's handing of what Russia calls a counter-terrorist operation to the FSB reflects the fact that large-scale battles no longer take place. The rebels instead launch guerrilla-style operations, which almost daily claim Russian soldiers' lives.

The FSB has said it will focus on special operations to get to remaining rebel leaders, although they have long eluded Moscow's attempts to capture or kill them.

The head of the Moscow-appointed Chechen administration, Akhmad Kadyrov, said a cut to 40,000 troops from 80,000 would not undermine operations against the rebels.

"The people (of Chechnya) hope that at last the operation will be successfully ended and that the reconstruction of the economy and homes will begin," Kadyrov was quoted as saying by Interfax.

Russian tanks and warplanes razed many villages to the ground at the height of the campaign in late 1999 and early 2000 and a huge rebuilding programme is needed. The regional capital Grozny remains a shattered wasteland.