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Russia also is plagued by an Islamic insurgency in its Caucasus provinces, an offshoot of the two post-Soviet wars with Chechen separatists. The violence periodically spreads deep into the heartland, as in January when a suicide bomber killed 36 people at Moscow’s largest airport.

Kazakhstan, smaller than Russia but larger than all of Europe, also has thrived on its gas reserves and other natural resources. Its prospects for democracy are even more doubtful than Russia‘s.

Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has led the country since the Soviet collapse, holds unchallenged power, and his party occupies every seat in the national legislature.

However, neighboring Kyrgyzstan remains a focus of worry because of violent animosity between ethnic groups, which exploded last year in pogroms in the south that killed hundreds. Both the United States and Russia have air bases in the country, and stability there is a key concern for Moscow and Washington.

Two other former Soviet states’ moves toward democracy and the West deteriorated but have not definitively collapsed.

Ukraine, where massive protests in 2004 ushered in a reformist Western-leaning pro-NATO government, almost immediately devolved into factional jealousies that effectively paralyzed the country.

Voters threw out that regime last year in favor of a Russia-friendly president, who is under wide criticism from the West for politically motivated prosecutions and pressure on independent news media.