France's state development bank has signed a deal to help Russia develop the restive North Caucasus region into a ski haven, a French official said Saturday.
Russia plans to create five resorts in the Caucasus mountain ridge along its southern border.
The area is plagued by daily killings and Islamist insurgency.
The $15 billion Russian plan got a boost with France's state development bank Caisse des Depots signing a framework agreement with North Caucasus Resorts, the company developing the project.
"The objective is to open up this zone," said CDC's international affairs director Laurent Vigier on Saturday. "It's a response to the security problem. The best security guarantee is economic development."
A joint venture is expected in 2012 after the sides agree on precise details about legal framework and financing, he said.
The Kremlin's envoy to the region Alexander Khloponin said the security issue is "consistently difficult" but said that the government "can now guarantee the security of those investments that will come to the Caucasus."
In February militants in Kabardino-Balkaria region targeted a minibus with skiers from Moscow, killing three.
The following day, a ski lift on nearby Elbrus resort was damaged in a blast.
The project was recently slammed by environmentalists as destructive because the original master plan of the resorts showed their encroachment on several strictly protected areas and a UNESCO World Heritage site.