The species is very close to the European polecat in general appearance, proportions and habits, though its body seems somewhat more elongated, due to its shorter guard hairs. The tail is short, constituting ⅓ of its body length.
Males measure 32-56 cm in body length, while females measure 29-52 cm. Tail length is typically 7.0-18.3 cm. Males in Siberia may weigh up to 2,050 grams, while females weigh 1,350 grams. One giant polecat from central Asia has been recorded with a body length of about 75-80 cm. Overall, specimens exhibiting gigantism are more common than in the European polecat, and occur primarily in western Siberia, where it is likely that steppe polecats hybridise with kolonoks (Mustela sibirica).
It inhabits a variety of relatively dry habitats including steppes, semi-deserts, pastures, and cultivated fields. Its diet consists mainly of rodents, including sousliks, marmots, hamsters, pikas, gerbils and voles. It avoids forests, and is primarily nocturnal.
These animals attain their full growth at the age of 2 years. In captivity they have been known to live for 8 years, but typical lifespan in the wild is significantly less.
In Europe, this species is still numerous, particularly in southern European Russia and Kazakhstan, though it is unevenly spaced and abundant across its range, with unstable population densities, being strongly dependent on food resources, and capable of spreading and colonizing new areas rapidly.
It is more widespread to the east of Europe. There has been no evidence for any decline (except in Austria and the Czech Republic), but the species is scarce. However, ground squirrels are declining and this is an important prey species, so this could have an impact on the population in Europe. It is widespread and common in Central Asia and Siberia.
The steppe polecat occurs from central and eastern Europe in the west through southern Russia, northern Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan to Mongolia and northern and western China. It occurs up to 800 m in Europe and to 2,600 m a.s.l. in central Asia.
In Europe this species is represented by two major populations that are separated by the Carpathians. The western population of which (subspecies Mustela eversmanii hungarica) is found in the Czech Republic, eastern Austria, southern Slovakia, Ukraine south of the Carpathians, Hungary, northern Yugoslavia, and western Romania; the eastern population (nominate subspecies) being restricted to northern Bulgaria, southern Romania, Moldova, Ukraine east and north of the Carpathians, southeastern Poland, southern European Russia, and Kazakhstan.
It is not intentionally hunted (more bycatch) but is heavily impacted by persecution in the western parts of its range. However, in Russia it is a commonly hunted species for fur. It is impacted by habitat loss in China. Some research suggests that this species is hunted for its pelts.