People should stop considering North Caucasus dangerous – presidential envoy

Teberdinsky nature reserve in the republic of Karachayevo-Cherkessia (RIA Novosti / STF)
Promotion of the North Caucasus as a health resort area would give the region a good chance for social and economic development, Aleksandr Khloponin, the presidential representative to the Federal District has said.

Khloponin, a vice premier, was speaking on Thursday at the opening of a plenary meeting of the international forum "Caucasian Health Resort. Human Investment" in Kislovodsk, Stavropol Region.

He said President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ordered the promotion of the North Caucasus brand at a level of a state program. “This is a unique territory, where organic products are produced, which is very important, in particular, for network marketing companies,” he outlined, as cited by Interfax.

According to Khloponin, people should stop viewing the North Caucasian Federal District as a territory of armed conflicts and special police operations. On the contrary, people come there to improve their health and enjoy outdoor activities, he said.

The Russian government is developing a “unique” state program for the development of the region in 2012-2025, he added. As part of the program, tourism and health resorts will be developed in the North Caucasus. The first step will include the creation of an alpine skiing cluster and the development of local resorts. The presidential envoy noted that advantages of the district are obvious: its location between the Black and the Caspian seas, developed logistics, and plenty of labor.

As for shortcomings that hamper the region's development, Khloponin named imperfect infrastructure, administrative barriers and lack of qualified personnel. However, he noted, those drawbacks are still outweighed by the advantages and can be sorted.

Last year, speaking at the ruling United Russia party conference in Kislovodsk, its chair, premier Putin also stated that it was time to“overcome phobias and stereotypes, cardinally improve the perception of the region in Russia and in the entire world” and the media should play an active role in it. However, the coverage of events should be “honest and unbiased”.

The North Caucasian Federal District – incorporating Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, North Ossetia-Alania, Chechnya and the Stavropol region – was created in January 2010 and Khloponin was appointed the presidential representative to the region.

One of the most picturesque places in Russia – which offers both amazing scenery, mountains and sea – the North Caucasus is also the country's most troubled region with high corruption rate and unemployment being key reasons for instability. Thanks to government efforts and millions invested into the territory’s development, the situation has improved in recent years.

However, not a single week has passed without reports about clashes between police and militants, blasts, or reports that suicide bombers might be heading from the Caucasus to other regions preparing a terrorist attack. All that clearly does not help to improve the region's image and attract tourists.

Back in March, Medvedev ordered the Federal Security Service (FSB) to continue special operations against militants. He stressed that all those who do not lay down arms will be eliminated.

"The measures directed at destroying the bandit underground must be continued,” he said. “Unfortunately, problems still exist on the territory of several of our republics in the North Caucasus, and they should be solved in this way.” Medvedev added that, “Every bandit should understand that his fate is in his own hands: either he ends all resistance, and then he has every chance to avoid this situation or he continues his criminal activity, and in that case he will be destroyed”.

On Wednesday, two policemen were killed and three others wounded in an attack by an illegal armed group in Dagestan, reported Interfax. The next day, three suspected militants were shot dead in the republic, the National Antiterrorist Committee spokesman Nikolay Sintsov told the news agency.