Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin outlined on Tuesday a new strategy for the North Caucasus intended to boost its economic development and stem the cause for rising violence in the region.
Putin said that the regional economy must achieve a growth rate of about 10% per year. Putin made the statement at a plenary session during the interregional conference held by the ruling Untied Russia party on the strategy of the North Caucasus social and economic development by 2020 and the program for 2010-2012.
"Today the region lags considerably behind in terms of basic social and economic indicators. We need to reduce and in the future overcome this gap," Putin said.
The North Caucasus should be included in the system of interregional and international economic ties and large strategic projects, the prime minister said.
Namely, Putin said, the North Caucasus could become a part of the international North-South transit transport corridor.
"We see a real perspective of building the North Caucasus into a North-South international transit corridor that would link Russia and Europe with the Persian Gulf and Central Asian states," he said.
He added that Makhachkala, the capital of the republic of Dagestan, could become a major Russian merchant port on the Caspian Sea.
Russia is ready to support the Cherkessk-Sukhumi highway construction project to link the North Caucasus region with the former Georgian republic of Abkhazia. The republic was recognized by Russia as independent in 2008, after a brief war with Georgia over South Ossetia.
"We are prepared to use the advantages of cooperation in the sphere of transport and promote jointly with our Abkhazian partners the project of building the Cherkessk-Sukhumi highway," Putin said.
The prime minister said a promising area was the establishment of building materials enterprises in the North Caucasus.
"We need to build a lot in the North Caucasus, both housing and social facilities, and such large-scale tasks will require a boost to the building materials industry and related sectors," Putin said.
The prime minister said the oil refinery, to be built in the republic of Chechnya by the Russian state-controlled oil company Rosneft, would be open in 2014. The project, worth 17 million rubles (about $550,000), will make the republic a leading center of Russia's oil and petrochemical industry.
Government support and investment
Putin called on regional authorities to use all possibilities to attract investments to the region. Each investor should be hosted by the North Caucasus republics' governments as "a family member," he said.
The country's government has spent a total of 800 billion rubles ($25.7 billion) for the development of the North Caucasus over the past 10 years, with donations rising 12 times compared with 2000. However, this was apparently insufficient, the premier said.
"Despite a respectively good economic growth and budget provision rates, we have failed to dramatically change the nature of the regional economy. State investments and direct federal support alone are insufficient here, no matter how large they are," Putin said.
He said it was difficult, sometimes impossible to launch a new business in the region and called on the republics' authorities to improve the situation.
Putin said that government guarantees for loans to finance projects in the North Caucasus would amount to 70%.
"This substantial level of guarantees, as I expect, will help reduce risks and, therefore, the cost of borrowing," he said.
The Russian premier said unemployment was the region's "most sharp social and psychological problem." He said the country's authorities must create at least 400,000 new jobs in the North Caucasus over the next 10 years.
The problem of unemployment is seen as a major reason for local residents to join militant groups.
Presently, Putin said, every fifth regional resident cannot find a job. In the republics of Ingushetia and Chechnya, the situation is even worse, with every second and almost every third employable resident remaining unemployed, he said.
Putin said the Russian government intended to further support the development of tourism in the region. He said it was necessary to create a high-tech resort industry of a national scale in the North Caucasus.
"Almost each of the North Caucasus regions has something to propose in such a prospective sphere as tourism," he said.
The first project to be implemented in the region is the creation of an alpine ski zone between the Caspian and the Black seas, which would eventually be able to host up to 100,000 tourists.
The development of tourism will help create an additional 160,000 jobs in the region, Putin said.
Putin called for closer cooperation between the people and the authorities in the region.
"We need a permanent, substantial dialogue with public and rights organizations," he said.
"Residents should have a real opportunity to send signals to the authorities. Only then will they believe that the state understands their needs and is able to find ways to solve the existing problem," he said.
The premier said the improvement of local residents' attitude to the authorities was a major task for the United Russia party.
Improving regional image
Putin said it was necessary to change the public atmosphere both in the North Caucasus itself and around it.
"It is necessary to overcome phobias and stereotypes, dramatically improve the region's image in Russia and in the world," he said.
The prime minister said extremists and gangs in the North Caucasus are often doing their job under the guise of political slogans.
"But their time is running out," Putin said.
"We should use all forces to protect the lives, rights and security of our citizens. We will never allow the invasion into our internal affairs, or any attempts against our territorial integrity and Russia's sovereignty," he said said.
Putin said the Russian government will allocate 10 million rubles ($320,000) for the best regional youth projects in 2010, with the figure rising to 100 million rubles ($3.21 million) next year.
The premier also said Russia's leading universities would take on some 1,300 students from the North Caucasus a year.
Putin said a major task for the regional authorities was to improve the medical care system in the North Caucasus. He said the republics were able to attract investments of up to 15 billion rubles ($482 million) for this goal.
The premier brought up the example of the republic of Chechnya, where 35 hospitals, as well as 53 schools, were built over the past two years using federal funds.
KISLOVODSK, Russia, July 6 (RIA Novosti)