Millisphere: a discrete region inhabited by roughly one-thousandth of the world population.
Kazakhstan, divided by watershed, revealed the millispheres of Aral, Balkhash and Kazakh.
Straddling the Kazakh Steppes, the millisphere of Kazakh (4.5 million) drains north into the West Siberian Plain and the Ob River. Discharging into the Arctic Ocean the Ob is the world's seventh longest river system and one tributary, the Irtys, rises in China's oil fields in Xinjiang.
The border between Kazakhstan and Russia is also the world's longest land border. In the Kazakh border towns Russian is spoken and Kazakhstan's manufacturing industries are located there. Part of the Trans Siberian Railway runs through Kazakhstan, following a cross-border economic corridor.
Russian populist politicians like Alexander Navalny play on Russian fears of workers from south of the border taking their jobs and there are Kazakh fears of Russia annexing their (Russian) border towns - like they did in Crimea. Twenty per cent of Kazakhstan's population is Russian and Christian, and 60 per cent are Kazakhs and Moslem.
The Kazakh Steppes were once the domain of the nomadic descendants of Gengis Khan's Mongol hordes. Following the pastures with their flocks and collapsible yurts, the Kazakhs were feared whenever they broke through the Urals into Russia. Since the collapse of the USSR Kazakh nationalism has resurrected an idealised vision of their nomadic past.
In Kazakhstan's first election after the collapse of the USSR, Nursultan "Papa" Nazarbayev's name was the only one on the ballot and he held on to power for another three decades, in which time his family accumulated a vast and unexplained fortune. Born a nomad, Nazarbayev was a steelworker before rising to power in the communist USSR.
Presiding over a dysfunctional family, Nazarbayev was not beyond having business rivals and bank officials kidnapped and murdered. His daughter Darigha has an unexplained fortune of $US100 million. Darigha's former husband, "Sugar" Aliev, wrote a book called "God-father-in-law", in which he spilled the beans on Nazarbayev. Aliev's mistress then plunged to her death from his Beirut apartment and Sugar himself was found hanged in an Austrian prison. The son of Nazarbayev's second daughter and anointed successor, Dinara, claimed that his real father was actually his grandfather - "Papa" Nazarbayev.
Under Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan saw the rise of a prosperous, property-owning, middle class who largely approved of Nazarbayev's strong hand keeping order even if corruption was widespread.
Nazarbayev officially changed the Kazakh alphabet from the Russian Cyrillic script to Latin (with complex pronunciation markers) - mainly for Kazakh nationalist reasons - but that project hasn't been a huge success. Russian is being replaced by English and Chinese (Mandarin) as the languages of commerce in Kazakhstan.
Under Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan became the "buckle" in China's belt-and-road initiative (BRI) and China became the largest investor in Central Asia. China's goal was to expand infrastructure and to win over local governments with jobs and money as well as gaining access to Kazakh mineral resources. There are still gaps in Kazakhstan's transport infrastructure that is proving not to be as lucrative as first imagined and Kazakh BRI projects are faltering and being scaled down. Empty containers are being sent to Europe just to get Chinese government subsidies and it is still cheaper and faster to move containers by sea.
Public criticism of China is a sensitive topic in Kazakhstan. A recent trial in Kazakhstan of a Kazakh Chinese national accused of "crossing the border illegally" (to claim asylum) included her testimony of being detained in a Chinese re-education camp in Xinjiang. The general Kazakh population also has a suspicion of Chinese investment.
Nazarbayev had the Kazakhstan capital moved from Astany up to the Kazakh steppes where he built a new city from scratch and called it Nur-Sultan, after himself. According to travellers' accounts Nur-Sultan has about as much charm and grace as a Canberra, a Dubai or a Milton Keynes. Beautiful, liveable cities are grown, not designed.
Adventure tourists instead head for the former Soviet nuclear testing range at Semipalatinsk, where, in the absence of humans, wildlife has colonised the lakes formed in old nuclear craters.