Background: Annexed by Russia between 1865 and 1885, Turkmenistan became a Soviet republic in 1924. It achieved its independence upon the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. President NIYAZOV retains absolute control over the country and opposition is not tolerated. Extensive hydrocarbon/natural gas reserves could prove a boon to this underdeveloped country if extraction and delivery projects were to be expanded. The Turkmenistan Government is actively seeking to develop alternative petroleum transportation routes in order to break Russia's pipeline monopoly.