Altai is, and has been for centuries, ruled by an elected Great Khan. Traditionally the khan is supposed to be descended from Genghis Khan, the first man to unite all the tribes of the steppes, but since he lived over 800 years ago his descendants are believed to include almost the entire population of Asia. As a result it's been accepted practice for several generations to overlook that particular criterion, and today any person of good standing is permitted to stand for election upon the death of the old khan.
Altai has four constituent khaganates - Siberia, Turkestan, Mongolia and Tunguska - each of which is sovereign in its own right, and each khaganate is the home of dozens of tribes and sub-khanates. These days the main purpose of the confederation is to coordinate a common foreign policy and defensive strategy, but in times of crisis the Great Khan is permitted to take personal control of all the tribes and lead them as one against the enemy. The last time this happened was in 1965, towards the end of the Third World War.
Altai has its origins in the Mongol Empire founded by Genghis Khan in the 13th century. After his death in 1227 his empire was divided among his sons, who continued to expand until Mongol rule covered all of China, Central Asia, Persia and much of modern-day Lithuania, as well as the Mongolian steppes themselves. However, over the generations, the Mongols became increasingly fractured and Turkified, allowing their enemies to overcome the small khanates one by one.
Only the khanate of Chagatai, founded by Genghis' second son, remained strong and unified. Over the next couple of centuries it came to dominate central Asia, taking over the surrounding sub-khanates and resisting Persian, Chinese and Lithuanian attempts to expand into the region. In 1537 Dayan Khan gained through diplomacy the lands of the Northern Yuan in Mongolia, and during the 17th century the confederation expanded north into the forests and tundra of Siberia. With all Altaic peoples - Mongols, Turks and Tungus - under their rule, the confederation gradually became known, first to the outside world and later to its inhabitants, as Altai.
Turkestan is by far the most populous khaganate within the confederation, with several major cities located in its southern regions. Due to its strategic position on the ancient Silk Road between Europe and China, it grew very wealthy from trade.
The heart of Turkestan consists of the old Ulus of Chagatai, which was centralised by the general and warlord Timur and went on to try and reunite the Mongol Empire.
The population of Mongolia is overwhelmingly nomadic, sticking to the old ways for the most part. It houses one important city, Karakorum, which was rebuilt in the 19th century after having been abandoned for centuries. Today Karakorum holds a ceremonial position as the overall capital of Altai.
There is much trade between Mongolia and its Chinese neighbour, with minerals and livestock heading south, and manufactured goods heading north. This has served to make Mongolia reasonably prosperous.
The Siberian Khaganate has historically been the most influenced by Western civilization, because of its geographical location and its shoreline along the Hyrcanian Sea.
Though named after the Sibir Turks, most of the territory is instead populated by different Finnic and Ugric groups, including the Nenet, Khanty, Komi and Selkup. The Turkic-speaking part, containing most of the population, is concentrated in the south.
Tunguska is the most sparsely populated part of Altai, since much of its territory consists either of dense forest or barren tundra. Nevertheless, there are several tribes and clans who call the region home.