Kazakhstan is a country in Central Asia, occupying a large territory of the Eurasian steppe. It has a population of approximately 17 million people and is the 9th largest country in the world. The population is mostly ethnic Kazakh, but there is a significant percentage (about 16%) or Russians, mostly near the northern border. Kazakhstan borders Russia to the north, China to the east, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to the south. A part of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union ever since the Kazakh tribes were incorporated into Russia around the mid 1800s, Kazakhstan declared independence in 1991, led by Nursultan Nazarbayev. Currently, Kazakhstan is one of Russia's closest political allies, sharing a customs union and founding the Eurasian Union.