Russia eyes resorts to bring peace to North Caucasus

Wed Sep 21, 2011 10:57am EDT
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By Thomas Grove

ARKHYZ, Russia (Reuters) - It's not easy for Sanzhar Shamshiyev to imagine his native Russian mountains in the North Caucasus dotted with luxury ski resorts and foreign holidaymakers.

But the five state-of-the-art tourism complexes that Russia plans to build near his home may create jobs that would help stop Shamshiyev and others from fleeing the region to find work and cut support for an insurgency fueled by the region's grinding poverty.

"Decisions are difficult to make here. There is anger at the poverty, the lack of jobs. Many deal with the problem simply by leaving," said the 23-year-old, standing on a street corner in Cherkessk, the quiet capital of Karachay-Cherkessia province.

"I would stay for a chance to work," he said.

The mainly Muslim provinces of the North Caucasus stretch along predominantly Orthodox Christian Russia's southern borders with Georgia and Azerbaijan, reaching from the Black to the Caspian Sea.

Rebels wage daily violence in an attempt to turn the region into an Islamist state. Russia's most wanted man, Doku Umarov, who fought Russian soldiers in two separatist wars in his native Chechnya since 1994, leads the insurgency.

Last year violence in the region killed some 750 people, analysts estimate.

The rebels have vowed to disrupt the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Black Sea coast town of Sochi, which lies on the same mountain chain, though the Sochi area has yet to see the same level of violence as the provinces surrounding Chechnya, like Dagestan and Ingushetia.   Continued...

<p>Models are on display at a construction site on the territory of a future resort near the village of Arkhyz in Karachay-Cherkessia region in Russia's North Caucasus August 29, 2011. The $20-billion plan, touted as the country's biggest tourism infrastructure project, will offer visitors hundreds of miles of ski trails across the stark, almost vertical mountain peaks, many of which are crowned year-round with powdery snow. Picture taken August 29, 2011. REUTERS/Kazbek Basayev</p>