Courchevel in the North Caucasus

Move over Courchevel, here comes Karachayevo-Cherkessia.

And Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia and Dagestan.

According to The Moscow Times, France is joining forces with a state-owned Russian firm to develop and manage nearly $3 billion worth of ski resorts in Russia's highly volatile North Caucasus region.

The deal, Interfax reports, also involves plans to build resorts on the Black and Caspian Seas, in partnership with the improbably-named North Caucasus Resorts Company.

If the deal comes to fruition, it would bring an international après ski scene - complete with table-dancing, Toffee Vodkas and Jaeger Bombers? - to a part of Russia notorious, in Kremlin circles, for militant violence and Muslim insurgency.

It's part of a borader plan, spearheaded by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, to stabilize the region through economic development. Tourism as an elixir against terrorism.

Russia says the momentum is on its side in the fight to restore normalcy to the North Caucasus. But a recent series of deadly suicide attacks in the Russian capital, blamed on insurgents from the same areas that are to host the French ski resorts, suggest that the region remains a potential tinderbox and source of strife.

The North Caucasus remain so unstable that last year President Dmitry Medvedev's security detail could find only one (relatively) safe place for him to host an emergency meeting of local leaders: Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia. Anywhere else, it was deemed, he ran the risk of assassination.

Barely a week goes by without a new incidence of violence - including an operation by Russian special forces earlier this month in which four militants were reportedly killed.

When Putin famously pledged to "whack terrorists in the s**thouse," he didn't specify where. But he clearly had the North Caucasus in mind.

Russia's long and troubled relationship with its southern republics has spawned a cycle of violence and counter-violence that won't be halted unless Moscow changes its attitudes.

Until that time, the French have secured a money-back guarantee on their investment in the event that terrorist acts, or military violence, make it too tough to do business in the region. 

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