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Kazakhstan extends east to west from the Caspian Sea to the Altay Mountains and north to south from the plains of Western Siberia to the oasis and desert of Central Asia. Almost one-third of the country—804,500 square kilometers—is taken up the the Kazakh Steppe, the world's largest dry steppe region. The steppe is characterized by large areas of grasslands and sandy regions.
There is considerable topographical variation within Kazakstan. The highest elevation, Khan Tengri Mountain, on the Kyrgyz border in the Tian Shan range, is 6,995 meters; the lowest point, at Karagiye, in the Caspian Depression in the west, is 132 meters below sea level. Only 12.4 % of Kazakstan is mountainous, with most of the mountains located in the Altay and Tian Shan ranges of the east and northeast, although the Ural Mountains extend southward from Russia into the northern part of west-central Kazakstan. Many of the peaks of the Altay and Tian Shan ranges are snow covered year-round, and their run-off is the source for most of Kazakstan's rivers and streams.
Major cities include, Astana (capital since June 1998), Almaty (former capital, once known as Alma-Ata and before 1917 as Verny), Karaganda, Shymkent (Chimkent), Semey (Semipalatinsk) and Turkestan, once known as Yasi.
Mt Beluka, located in the eastern corner of the country, is the highest mountain in Siberia.
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