Zabaikalsky Region – copper mining hub

Zabaikalsky Region in East Siberia’s Transbaikal is renowned for its amazing scenery, with mighty mountains and huge forests. It is also Russia’s copper mining hub.

­The famous long-distance Baikal-Amur Railway stretches across the region's vast territories. The harsh Siberian climate meant construction took more than half a century. But, with the last section of track laid, the line opened the door to the region's rich natural resources.

Natural beauty reaches across Russia’s Transbaikal, and beneath it a wealth of natural resources. Bringing them to the surface is why Abdilajan and the crew from the Baikal Mining Company are here in the Udokan Mountains.

“We are at the eastern side of the Udokan copper deposit. It’s divided into three sectors. In these areas, we drilled 13,000 meters in 2010,” a geologist Abdilajan Mulaev told RT. “It’s the first stage at this deposit.”

It is expected to take five years to get from the exploratory phase, to full-scale excavation of the 20 million tonnes of copper believed to be buried here. However, to get to where Abdilajan and his crew are now has taken nearly six decades. Copper was first found here in 1949, but the lack of infrastructure and energy grids made excavation difficult.

Later, the mining efforts stalled with the fall of the Soviet Union. Still, the work that began back then is the starting point of today.

“We understood long ago that we need to develop this deposit,” Andrey Prostakishin of the Zabaikalsky regional government said. “But because of the absence of engineering, energy, and transportation facilities and infrastructure made those plans impossible.”

Past delays and present challenges are not deterring the work of investors or the hopes of local government.

“The project means more investments and new jobs. But it will also provide additional tax revenues into the entire region. And new social programs will be launched,” Prostakishin explained.

Some ecologists warn that full-scale excavation, while profitable, could disrupt the environment.

The regional government and the Baikal mining company have agreed on a strategy that they insist will preserve the local ecology and enrich the economy, so that the people of the Transbaikal will not only benefit from the beauty of the area but also from its abundances of buried resources.

Michael Shipley, an American freelance journalist and translator, has been a resident of Chita – the region’s capital – for 16 years. Among other things that keep him there, he says, are both the people and nature.

“The people are really open, they are very warm, very inviting and extremely easy to get to know, the journalist told RT. In terms of nature, this whole region is, by Western standards, virtually untouched. There’s a nature reserve here called the Daursky Nature Reserve. We went out there on the lake, we were the only people on the lake, and it’s beautiful. A really wonderful experience!”