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Russia, China and Central Asia

Parts of the former Soviet Union are beset by The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan — powered by the Afghan drug trade, trained by the Taliban and operating out of Tajikistan — which wants to establish an Islamic state in parts of each. The new quasi-democracies have beefed up armies, tightened borders, stifled dissent and turned to Russia. Russia says Muslim radicals in Chechnya are getting help from bin Laden and the Taliban. Caspian and Black Sea oil make it a strategic region. U.S. companies want access to Kazakstan’s oil reserves and to natural-gas fields in Turkmenistan.

China’s leaders have asked the Taliban to close Afghan-based camps used to train Muslim separatists called Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gurs) in China’s Xinjiang region, which borders Pakistan and Afghanistan. Already hemmed in by U.S. forces in Japan and South Korea, China would not welcome U.S. soldiers to its west.

Area: China (3.7 million square miles); Russia (6.6 million square miles); Uzbekistan (172,700 square miles); Tajikistan (55,300 square miles); Turkmenistan (188,500 square miles); Kazakstan (1 million square miles); Kyrgyzstan (76,600 square miles).

Population: China (1.3 billion); Russia (145 million); Uzbekistan (25 million); Turkmenistan (4.5 million); Kazakstan (16.7 million); Kyrgyzstan (4.6 million); Tajikistan (6.6 million). The people of Tajikistan, originally part of Tibet, are closely related to the Chinese, while the other republics have mainly Turkic peoples.

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