President Saparmyrat Niyazov has managed to build a personality cult that tolerates no political opposition. Though Niyazov modeled his identity on Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkish state, the Turkmen leader's policies are said to conform to ancient traditions.
Russia's policy-making elite is divided over how to respond to the sweeping geopolitical shift that has occurred in Central Asia - the region Russian strategists have portrayed since the end of the 19th century as the country's soft underbelly.
Eager to retain its political clout in Afghanistan, Russian officials have expressed a desire to enhance military cooperation with the interim government in Kabul. It remains to be seen, however, whether Moscow can meet Afghanistan's security expectations.
Russia and the United States are busy forging new strategic alliances and reshaping old security arrangements in Central Eurasia. In response to the growing US presence in Central Asia, Russia is targeting the Caspian Basin, seeking to enhance cooperation with Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.
Part II of a two-part series. Read Part I. Vladimir Putin, who established his credentials in the security services, cemented his hold on power on promises of establishing order and crushing Chechen separatism.
Part I of a two-part series. Read Part II. The Russian Mafia poses serious obstacles for Russia's development and has been perceived as a threat to its neighbors and even the West. Yet few seem to have a clear understanding of how Russian criminal syndicates are organized.
Orlov's comments reflect a frustration among Russian liberals with international institutions that fail to hold the Kremlin accountable for human rights abuses in Chechnya. On January 11, Russian servicemen killed six civilians - one of them a pregnant woman and mother of seven other children - on the outskirts of the village Dai in the Shatoi district.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has been meeting in Strasbourg since January 21, and is scheduled to adopt a resolution on Russian human rights abuses in Chechnya. Some Russians fear the resolution will be too mild.
The January 22 visit to Tashkent by Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the US anti-terrorism campaign in Afghanistan, has Moscow strategists fretting. Franks' talks with Uzbek leaders comes at a time of great debate in Russia over the United States' intentions in Central Asia. Central Asia watchers in Moscow feel the latest indicators point to a permanent US presence in the region.
Across Central Asia, the Soviet era was characterized by a colonial attitude, secularization, Russification and the establishment of artificial borders that left ethnic groups divided. At the same time, Russian-speaking migrants, mostly ethnic Slavs, rarely mixed with indigenous peoples, and few inter-married or learnt the local languages.