Zubkov Tackles Nalchik's Economy

Itar-TassZubkov, right, visiting a halva factory Wednesday in Nalchik. "Saying 'halva' won't make your mouth sweet," he said.
In his trademark down-to-earth manner, Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov toured Nalchik on Wednesday as he prepared for a Cabinet meeting aimed at boosting the local economy in a region that has suffered from insurgency.

Some 150 Islamic militants descended on police, security and military sites in Nalchik in October 2005, sparking a gun battle that rattled the city through the next day and killed 130, including attackers, security officers and civilians. Observers blamed the uprising on the harassment of unofficial Muslim organizations by the local authorities and the appalling unemployment.

Zubkov said local authorities had wrongly spent money earmarked for social and economic development since 2003 -- 8 billion rubles, of which 70 percent was in federal subsidies. They mostly used it to pay salaries, but did little to create new jobs, he said at a meeting with top regional officials.

A better option is to invest federal money in the upgrading and construction of new production facilities, resorts and tourist business, Zubkov said.

Kicking off his tour of the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, Zubkov stopped by a factory that makes three beer brands, other beverages and halva, popular Middle Eastern sweets. After looking at production lines, Zubkov had a personal question for the company director. "What kind of beer do you drink?" he asked.

The director said he did not like beer.

Zubkov then inspected samples of halva, which apparently reminded him of an Azeri saying about deeds being more important than words. "Saying 'halva' won't make your mouth sweet," Zubkov said jokingly, Interfax reported.

His visit came a day before the Cabinet was to meet for its first session of the year to consider a plan to develop Kabardino-Balkaria. The Cabinet also will discuss a plan to join the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and ratify an agreement on international humane trapping standards among the European Community, Canada and Russia.