Grozny, Russia/Moscow, 18 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov said today that Moscow intends to keep up to 10,000 troops in Chechnya.
Interfax news agency quoted Kulikov as saying that half those troops would report directly to him and half to the defense ministry. Correspondents say the move is likely to further anger the separatists who have stepped up their demands for a complete withdrawal of Russian troops ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections in the breakaway republic scheduled for January 27.
Kulikov said that up to 20,000 Russian troops and some 2,500 police are currently stationed in the region.
Moscow has pulled out most of its troops following the latest peace deal with the rebels signed in August, but the Kremlin is still opposed to granting full independence.
The rebels announced at the weekend that they were close to striking another deal, aimed at clarifying relations between Grozny and Moscow, ahead of the local polls after a meeting with President Boris Yeltsin's special envoy to Chechnya, Ivan Rybkin.