A hermit nation ruled by an egomaniac: Is Turkmenistan on the brink of collapse?

A screen shot from the Caspian Economic Forum promotional material portrays a gallant picture of the nation, which researchers say is on the brink of economic collapse.

(CNN)Men in white fur caps proudly ride horses across the steppe, rows of modern machinery glisten, Barbie-pink flamingos strut before clear blue skies and a white yacht cuts through the turquoise waters of the Caspian Sea.

These are idyllic scenes from a one-minute video promoting the inaugural Caspian Economic Forum, which between August 11 and 12 will see heads of state from Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan descend on Awaza, a new resort town that has been touted by Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry as the country's Las Vegas.
    The footage paints the picture of a happy, prosperous nation.
    But the reality for the 5.85 million people who live in this authoritarian hermit nation is different.
    Strict media controls mean that information trickles out of the country, but human rights abuses are commonplace, activists often disappear, and forced labor is a concern, according to Human Rights Watch.
    As a hermit nation, it rivals North Korea. Just over 6,000 people visited Turkmenistan in 2016, according to local media reports. Entry visas are notoriously hard to obtain. Awaza lies empty most of the year.
    For years, Turkmenistan has been able to survive on its vast gas reserves. But with the collapse of gas prices in recent years, the screws are tightening -- a recent report by British think tank, The Foreign Policy Centre, suggests the Central Asian nation is now on the brink of collapse.
    "There is not enough food in the state-run shops so every morning people have to line up for hours to buy such staples as flour, bread or sugar," says Ruslan Myatiev, who runs independent news site Turkmen.news from the Netherlands, and g