Kazakhstan was the last of the former Soviet republics to declare independence. Foreign investment in the oil and natural gas sector is strengthening its regional power.

Geography: Mainly steppe. Volga Delta and Caspian Sea in the west. Central plateau. Inhospitable Altai Mountains in the east. Semi-desert in the south.

 Climate: Dry continental. Temperature variations between desert south and northern steppes are large. Winters are mildest near the Caspian Sea.

 People and Society: Kazakhstan’s ethnic diversity arose mainly from forced settlements there during Soviet times. Since independence, the proportion of ethnic Russians has dropped. Many emigrated, while ethnic Kazakhs arrived from neighbouring states. Very few Kazakhs maintain a traditional nomadic lifestyle, but Islam and loyalty to clans remain strong. There are significant disparities of wealth.

 The Economy: Vast mineral resources: natural gas, oil, bismuth, uranium, and cadmium. Oil pipelines to China and Black Sea. Many Western investors. Wheat exported. Sale of farmland only legal since 2003.

 Insight: The Soviet-built Baykonyr space center is still an important launch site for international missions


 Official Name: Republic of Kazakhstan

 Date Of Formation: 1991

 Capital: Astana

 Population: 15.6 million

 Total Area: 1,049,150 sq. miles (2,717,300 sq. km)

 Density: 15 people per sq. mile

 Languages: Kazakh*, Russian, Ukrainian, Tatar, Uzbek, Uighur, other

 Religions: Muslim (mainly Sunni) 47%, Orthodox Christian 44%, other 9%

 Ethnic Mix: Kazakh 57%, Russian 27%, other 10%, Ukrainian 3%, Uzbek 3%

 Government: Presidential system

 Currency: Tenge = 100 tiyn

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