Time to break stereotypes over North Caucasus – Putin

RIA Novosti
The image of the North Caucasus should be changed for the better both in Russia and abroad; phobias and stereotypes should be overcome, Premier Vladimir Putin has said at the ruling United Russia faction’s conference.

“It is essential to change the public atmosphere both in the North Caucasus and around it. We should overcome phobias and stereotypes, cardinally improve the perception of the region in Russia and in the entire world,” Putin, the chair of the majority party, said.

The premier is in Kislovodsk, a city in Russia’s Stavropol region, attending a United Russia conference entitled: “The strategy of social–economic development of the North Caucasus until 2020. Program for 2010-2020”. The federal district remains the country’s most troubled area with a whole range of social and economic problems that the leadership has been striving to solve.

In his opening speech at the gathering, Putin said that the region still remains a target for “harsh external ideological expansion which is often based on extremist and radical ideas.”

“The fight for people’s minds and mood is under way. And we cannot lose here,” the premier stated. “We have no right to be passive and drag behind events.”

The media, believes the premier, should play an active role in breaking stereotypes people have over the North Caucasus. Though, he underlined, the coverage should be “unbiased and honest”.

The weightiest argument, Putin said, “Are real positive changes, strengthening security, establishment of order within state institutions, rise in economy and the social sphere.”

Putin admitted that extremists still carry out terrorist attacks, but many of them have turned into ordinary criminal gangs. “They commit robberies and take part in property redistribution under the guise of political slogans. But their time is slipping away,” he said.

“I would like to underline once again: we will fight tooth and nail to defend the lives, rights and safety of our citizens,” Putin said.

“We will never allow any outside interference in our inside affairs or encroachment on Russia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

Dialogue with rights activists is essential

Putin has called on his party to maintain a dialogue with human rights organizations in the North Caucasus. According to the premier, that way citizens will be able to send signals to the government.

“Of course, there are many people there who get funding from outside,” he noted. At the same time, he went on, there are people “who sincerely aspire for improvements.”

“Today, people in the North Caucasus simply do not have a chance to be heard by officials and find understanding and support. Often, they run against the wall of indifference, solidarity and bribery,” Putin said.

Also, the premier stressed, it is important to maintain ties with “religious leaders, the youth, intelligentsia and the business community.”

Investors must be met “as family members”

From global statements to down to earth issues, Putin outlined the key priorities for the development of the North Caucasus region and said what already has been achieved in bringing life in the district to normal. Development of healthcare, education, infrastructure, tourism and attracting investments to the region are set to be the main goals.

Unemployment remains one of the vexed “social and psychological” problems the region faces, Putin said. According to statistics, every fifth person in the federal district cannot find a job.

“I believe solving the unemployment issue is a key to the success of our work in the North Caucasus,” the premier stressed. He added that it is planned to create up to 400,000 new working places within the next decade.

Also, an attractive climate for investors – both from Russia and abroad – should be set, since capital infusion provided by the state is not enough to provide for cardinal changes in the region’s economy. A solution, according to the premier, would be, first of all, protecting would-be investors from crime and bureaucratic outrage.

“It is crucial to give investors particular examples of successful work in the North Caucasus. We should show that the state is able to effectively guarantee safety of investments,” Putin said in Kislovodsk. He added that regional governors “should welcome any investor as a family member.”

The premier vowed that within next few years all the main airports in the area as well as new roads will be built.

“In general we oversee a true perspective of making the North Caucasus part of the international North-South transport corridor, which will connect Russia and Europe with the Persian Gulf and Central Asian states,” he said.

An ambitious goal voiced by Vladimir Putin – a keen skier – is turning the North Caucasus into a ski resort that would be capable of hosting up to 100,000 tourists.

“For starters, we are going to create a united cluster of mountain skiing tourism that would spread from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea,” he said.

Natalia Makarova, RT