Energy-rich but democracy-poor former Soviet republics are wielding newfound clout in ways that pose difficult new challenges to the European Union and the wider community of democratic states. Drawing on massive energy windfalls, these post-Soviet petrostates -- first and foremost Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Russia -- are becoming increasingly repressive at home.
The rubber hits the road for President George W. Bush's "Freedom Agenda," when he meets with President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan at the White House on April 28. Aliyev sits atop a tightly controlled system known for its denial of political or economic freedom to those who aren't members of the tiny and insular ruling elite.
Over the last year and a half, three "people-power" revolutions - in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan have shaken the existing order in the Caucasus and Central Asia, causing some to wonder whether an irreversible trend toward democratization has taken hold in the former Soviet Union. It may be that the real tests for democratization in the region are yet to come.