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.
But Astana's entry into cycling has not been without bumps, and the team has been embroiled in its fair share of doping scandals.
Astana's general manager Alexandre Vinokourov won a gold medal for Kazakhstan at the London 2012 Olympic Games. He tested positive for banned substances in 2007 and nearly quit cycling for good.
Turkmenistan, described as "one of the most closed and repressive countries in the world," is preparing to open its doors in 2017 for the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games.
A full edition of the Asian Games is said to be next on Turkmenistan's list and there's talk of a future Olympic bid, while it also hopes to turn the Caspian Sea resort of Avaza into a water sports hub.
CNN's Amanda Davies is pictured inside the 20,000 capacity multipurpose Ashgabat Stadium. Since becoming Turkmenistan president in 2006, Gurbanguly Berdimyhamedov has heralded the importance of sport and the importance of a healthy nation.
But a U.S. Embassy cable in 2009 described Berdimuhamedow as "vain, suspicious, guarded, strict, very conservative, a practiced liar, 'a good actor,' and vindictive."
"In Turkmenistan, the people are satisfied ... because they get everything from the government," Olympic Council of Asia representative Wei Jizhong said. "For me, the most valuable change is the mentality of the people. We have to go step by step, and use means the people can accept. Sport is an ideal tool."