The Republic of Karachay-Cherkessia lies in the northwest of Russia's troubled North Caucasus region. To the north and west lie the Russian territories of Stavropol and Krasnodar.
From the lowland steppes of the north, the ground rises to the southern border with Georgia which runs through the Caucasus mountain peaks.
The Karachay and Cherkess are two separate Muslim peoples. The Cherkess are ethnically and culturally related to the Kabarda and Adygey peoples and the Karachay to the Balkars. The republic is also home to Abazin and Nogay minorities. Ethnic tensions flare sporadically.
The region was absorbed by an expanding Russian Empire in the first half of the 19th century.
In the 20th, the divide-and-rule tactics of the Stalin era involved weakening resistance by splitting related groups and joining unrelated ones in shared administrative units. As part of this pattern, the Karachay-Cherkessia Autonomous Region was first created in 1922. Several further administrative adjustments and readjustments followed.
In 1943 the Karachay people were deported to Central Asia for alleged collaboration with the Nazis. They were allowed back in 1957 and the Karachay-Cherkess autonomous region recreated.
Although it has not experienced the levels of violence seen elsewhere in the North Caucasus, the republic lives in the shadow of the troubles which have plagued the region. Russian forces have mounted numerous security operations and reported foiling intended attacks by Islamist militants.
Crime, sometimes violent, and corruption further undermine stability. Inter-clan rivalries simmer and occasionally surface in angry outbursts. Poverty is widespread.Post-Soviet years
Karachay-Cherkessia gained republic status in the early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Soviet-era Communist leader Vladimir Khubiyev was re-appointed as president by Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
He remained in the post until the republic's first direct presidential elections in 1999 when Vladimir Semenov, a Karachay and former commander of Russian ground forces, defeated the late Stanislav Derev, a Cherkess businessman. The vote was followed by furious protests and allegations of fraud.
Crisis flared again in November 2004 following the brutal killing of seven businessmen in controversial circumstances. The former son-in-law of then President Mustafa Batdyyev was later convicted or organizing the murders.
The republic is keen to develop its tourist industry and winter sports are particularly popular. The highest peak in the Caucasus, Mount Elbrus, lies on the border with Kabardino-Balkaria.