Azerbaijan, much like Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, is trying to redefine itself by embracing international sport. It is hosting this summer's European Games and is expected to try for the Summer Olympics in 2024.
The capital of Azerbaijan, Baku, will host the inaugural European Games in June and Formula One grand prix in 2016. The city is a modern and busy one perched on the Caspian coast with a population of two million.
Azerbaijan sports officials boast that scores of new Olympic sports facilities have been opened in the past 15 years, including new European Games venues.
Azad Rahimov oversees Azerbaijan's ministry of youth and sports. "[We want to] position our country on the map of the world, to show how, 23 years after regaining our independence, we can achieve huge success," he said.
However, Rachel Denber, deputy director of Human Rights Watch, says human rights in Azerbaijan are being ignored at the expense of focusing on hosting sport's biggest events. "In Azerbaijan, we've actually seen significant regression in recent years," she said. "The past year, I would argue, has been the worst on record for human rights in Azerbaijan since the breakup of the Soviet Union."
Athletes in Azerbaijan are quick to promote their government's actions, saying times for the country's sporting youth have never been better.
Kazakhstan wants to host the 2022 Winter Olympics -- China is its only competition -- and discovers the fate of its bid on July 31. Its capital city Astana, meanwhile, is helping push the country's sporting ambitions.
Astana is the name of the country's professional road cycling team, which includes last year's Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali amongst its ranks. Founded in 2007, it is sponsored by Kazakhstan's Sovereign Wealth Fund Samruk Kazyna.