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Premier promises government action to protect Lake Baikal
Friday, July 25, 2003

ITAR-TASS News Agency, by Sergei Yakovlev and Vladimir Khodiy

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov promised on Friday that the Government of the Russian Federation will consider proposals for handling the lowering of the water level in Lake Baikal, "the unique natural object" that contains 90 percent of Russia's fresh water resources or 20 percent of the fresh water resources of the whole world.

The prime minister said so at a press conference that was held after the meeting he had chaired in Irkutsk on the conservation of Lake Baikal on Friday. He recalled that this year's inflow to the water bodies in East Siberia had decreased 2.5-3.5 times from last year. As a result, the transfer of coal, building materials, fuel and lubricants to remote residential locations was now under threat of disruption. Unless the situation changed, the river passenger transport from Irkustk to Bratsk will have to be suspended in August and the water supply situation can become aggravated in Angarsk, Usolye-Sibirskoye and Cheremkhovo.

Specialists say the way out of the critical situation lies through the lowering the water level in Lake Baikal by 40-45 centimeters. Scientists of the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences do not object: they believe that the draining would not damage the ecosystem of Lake Baikal substantially.

Earlier in the day, the prime minister said one of the threats to Lake Baikal was posed by the operation of the Baikal pulp-and-paper works. He said the program of reconstruction of the works designed to make it safer for the environment was now being implemented "with certain errors" and he proposed considering measures that would help complete the implementation of the program in line with the most exacting environmental requirements.

In his words, it is important to consider all aspects of the economic activity of the enterprises located close to Lake Baikal.

The conference in the Irkutsk region's Baikalsk had been called by the Federal Security Council concerned over the situation in the region. The taiga forests around Lake Baikal occupy an area of 71 million hectares and its softwood resources add up to 4.7 billion cubic meters. However, insufficient utilization of the available resources and scant demand for low quality products are counter-productive. Local businessmen find it more profitable to export round timber as there is practically no official export control and the customs duties on round timber are quite low.

The conference was attended by regional officials, experts from the Ministries of Natural Resources and Economic Development, as well as from other federal agencies.

One other threat to Lake Baikal was that flames around the lake engulfed about 3,000 hectares of taiga. The biggest seats of fire were registered in the Irkutsk region where they measure between 250 and 800 hectares each.

For all that, efforts continue to make the region as attractive as possible to investors, tourists and other interests.

One hundred and twenty volunteers are currently engaged in a project that would produce parking lots, campfire sites and signposts for tourists on a 1,800 km long track around Lake Baikal. The itinerary is comprised of 15 stretches, one of which leads along an old Trans-Siberian branch railway line built 100 years ago on the lake shore. Tourists are invited to traverse a path through nearly 40 tunnels on this stretch and the other stretches, including the adjoining stretch that extends from the Angara riverhead to Peschanaya Bay with no man-made structures on it. Other stretches can be well described by their names, such as "The shore of brown bears", "The old Evenki pathfinder's tract", "The sable glade". Many people tried to circle the lake in the past but their achievements have not been registered anywhere.

On Friday, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov held a press conference on the results of the conference at which he also responded to questions from journalists

He declared in particular that the tension that arose between the business community and the authorities over the recent scandal around UKOS Oil-Producing Company "wound be eliminated in the immediate future." He stressed, "The investment climate is Russia has been improving over the past few years" as evidenced by the inflow of foreign capital to Russia, the higher rating of Russia in the eyes of international rating agencies, as well as the intention of major international corporations to invest money in the reconstruction of old and the building of new facilities.

"Sometimes their imagination is troubled, but I hope that no global shocks will occur this time," the prime minister said. He does not think that "the situation for the business community and the investment climate will change negatively."

Kasyanov noted that one of the key tasks of the government was not to subsidize but ensure orders to the domestic defense enterprises. He recalled his visit to the Irkut research-and-production association in Irkutsk. According to the prime minister, the output has shown an upward trend at that enterprise which has a portfolio of orders sufficient to keep it going until 2007 and the number of orders could grow in the years to come.

He said he was satisfied with his visit to the enterprise. "I was satisfied with the mind set of the management and workers. People get good wages and are ready to work more intensively, provided there are orders to fulfill."

The Irkut Corporation is now fulfilling an order to manufacture seven Be-200 amphibian planes for the Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations. The amphibian planes can perform ground and water landing, extinguish forest and industrial fires and help sea-going ships in distress. They can lift heavy cargo, drop 320 metric tons of water on a seat of fire, carry rescue boats and rescue rafts and four-seat speedboats.

Irkut president Alexei Feodorov said the new Russian multifunctional airplanes could do well on the international market - France, Germany, China, South Korea and other countries have already shown an interest in them.


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