Located in the middle of the Asian part of Russia, the Irkutsk region stretches 1,400 km from north to south, 1,200 km from west to east, and covers 774,800 square km, which makes it larger than any Western European state. Its territory could place Italy, Denmark, Belgium, Great Britain, Portugal and the Netherlands combined.
The region is bordered by Krasnoyarsk Territory, Chita Region, the Republic of Sakha (see Yakutia), the Autonomous Republic of Tuva, and the Buryat Republic. The region comprises the Ust-Orda Buryat Autonomous Area and 33 districts.
About 86 percent of the region is forested, and timber resources are estimated at more than 8 billion cubic meters. The climate is continental, with extreme winter and summer temperatures.
The population of the Irkutsk region is 2.8 million (about 2 percent of Russia's total population), with major centres in Irkutsk (587,000) Angarsk (272,000), Bratsk (283,000), and Usolye Sibirskoye (195,000). Four other towns (Ust-Ilimsk, Cheremkovo, Ust-Kut, and Tulun) have populations between 50,000 and 100,000. The overall population density is 3.7 persons per square km, compared to 8.7 in Russia as a whole. The social and political situation of the region is considered to be among the most stable in Russia.
At the beginning of the century, much of the region's development was connected with the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway, which crosses the southern part of the region, and the Baikal-Amur Railway branch line, which crosses the region's northern districts. The Trans-Siberian Railway remains the most important transportation network in the region and annually services more than 57 million tons of freight, mostly timber, coal, oil products, ferrous and nonferrous metals, and construction materials.
Airports in Irkutsk, Bratsk, and Ust-Ulimsk serve all classes of aircraft and offer direct international flights to Beijing, Shenyan, Nigata, Seoul, and Ulan-Bator.
Roads are used for overland freight to western Russia, as well as to China and Mongolia.
Pipelines bring oil from Western Siberia to the Angarsk Oil Refinery; oil is also shipped via rail from Angarsk to refineries in Khabarovsk and Komsomolsk-on-Amur.
The Irkutsk region is rich in mineral resources and has industrial deposits of potassium, table salt, mica, talc, titanium, and niobium, as well as a variety of materials used in the construction industry.
The area remains among Russia's major gold-producing regions, and a recently discovered deposit at Sukhoi Log may be able to produce up to 50 tons of gold annually.
Brown and hard coal are mined in Cheremkhovo, Tulun and Ust-Ilim.
Development of rich oil and gas deposits is expected to permit an increase in export production by local refineries.
Ferrous metallurgy is represented by production of iron ore concentrate, while non-ferrous metallurgical enterprises produce aluminium and aluminium alloys, silumin, and gold.
The machine-building and metal-working sector produces and repairs river vessels, road-building equipment, and assorted machinery for the metallurgical and petrochemical industries.
Foreign trade and investment
150 regional enterprises are engaged in foreign economic activity with more than 80 countries. There are 25 Russian-American joint ventures operating in the region, and the total number of joint ventures registered by Irkutsk administration exceeds 280. Statistics provided by regional officials indicate that Irkutsk is Russia's largest exporter of aluminum, timber and timber products and pulp. In 1995, international trade turnover was about $4 billion, with the following approximate shares: fuel, minerals, metals - 52 percent; timber products and pulp - 27 percent; chemical products -13 percent; machinery and equipment - 1 percent.