President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Igor Eduardovich, today we visited one of the major production facilities in the Irkutsk region, IRKUT corporation, which is in fact a fundamental part of the United Aircraft Corporation.
Of course, it is very gratifying that the company has managed to maintain a high level of manufacturing activity and a very significant number of production orders from different states. Unfortunately this is not the case in all industries, even though it is necessary to maintain production orders.
And for us it is very important that in the future we come out of the current crisis with minimal damage, so that we don’t have to reinvent our real economy, which you might say is what happened in the 1990s after the severe depression that hit Russia's economy following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Such a scenario is unacceptable. And of course we have to think about how to safeguard our industry and at the same time the principal production sites, the places where people have jobs.
I would like to ask you a question: what is being done here in the Irkutsk Region? What problems are you facing? And what suggestions do you have to overcome the effects of the crisis?
Governor of Irkutsk Region Igor Esipovsky: Dmitry Anatolyevich!
In the Irkutsk region we are very much involved in virtually all industries. And now that we have begun to plan for the long-term development of the region, it is very important to have some kind of audit to see what we actually have and what kind of condition it’s in.
We have looked at metals, the raw material base, and we began to shape our vision of the current and future development of the region. I would divide it into several components.
The timber industry is vitally important and very well developed.
Dmitry Medvedev: It has historically been important in the Irkutsk Region, in the form of advanced processing and logging in large quantities.
Igor Esipovsky: Yes, we harvest more than 24 million cubic metres a year. This all requires special attention and of course increased efficiency. Despite the crisis, now we are paying particular attention to the development of the industry and to creating new enterprises. There are investment projects that are under way in the region, and in the timber industry there are more than 50 of them.
The second major area is tourism. Here in the heart of Siberia there are no major tourist and recreational areas that could provide almost the entire range of consumer services in this industry, but all of that could be created in the Irkutsk Region. Baikal is a unique phenomenon, a unique forest, unique nature. If we make the necessary efforts here they will be richly repaid.
The next important area is mining and advanced processing in the Irkutsk Region. We have the rich Kovyktinsky gas condensate field. We have a framework agreement with Gazprom and in my view we have made the only appropriate choice for the pipeline route, one that will facilitate the strategic movement of gas through our main industrial centres, such as Sayansk and Angarsk south of Baikal. This will give us the chance to develop the field of gas chemistry. We can increase the value added by a factor of 37 by processing gas in these enterprises. The investment projects are lined up and everyone understands how this has to be done. In principle this is one of the major pillars of our industry, an essential undertaking not from some sort of long-term perspective but right now and in the medium term.
And of course the main strategic challenge is the development of northern areas. Here we have very rich metal deposits of iron ore, rich deposits of potassium salts and of course the gold reserves in the eastern part of the Irkutsk Region.
Dmitry Medvedev: You are talking about big plans. But at the same time, we must resolve not to obsess over the fact that we’re in a crisis and that there’s not enough money for certain things. If we were to descend to the lowest of the low, so far down that it would be very difficult to get out of it, then we would be faced with the same situation that we had in the 1990s. This really is totally unacceptable.
The Irkutsk Region is richer in industry and productive capacities than any other Siberian territory. Of course in this sense the challenges that we face involve not only preserving its productive capacity but also raising it to another level. Steadily, effectively, without the sort of forcing that we might well have tried a year ago, we need to develop all these projects.
You mentioned the tourism and recreational sector or, as people like to say these days, cluster. This is also very important. We really don’t have any places for recreation in such places. Baikal is the pearl of the Irkutsk Region and its neighbouring areas.
First, we must do everything to ensure that it remains unspoiled and we must protect its exceptionally rich flora and fauna, which constitute its glory.
Then we have to build normal tourist infrastructure on its shores, which must not interfere with research activities or create any problems. Thus Lake Baikal has to remain unpolluted but at the same time be available for recreation for the millions of our people who want to see Baikal, and not only our citizens. Incidentally, many foreigners come and enjoy looking at everything, going hiking, and generally relaxing, but so far there are no facilities for this sort of tourism. We have to address this as well.
Igor Esipovsky: This year we had more than 50 organised foreign tour groups, whose itineraries involved all sorts of ecotourism.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, but these are small groups. To ensure that we have mass tourism, the only kind that can bring in money, we need to create hotels, develop the road network and open restaurants and cafes, so that people can relax in comfort. I think that would be the special and distinctive result from implementing these plans.
Igor Esipovsky: All of this is part of our plan, Dmitry Anatolyevich. It is really great that we have your support, because for us it is very important that what we are doing in the Irkutsk Region is an integral part of the economy and the development of Russia as a whole.