In the 1990s, Turkmenistan exported gas through a Russian pipeline, bringing in about $1 billion per year. But in 1993, Russia closed down Turkmenistan's only pipeline because it competed with Russia's own gas exportation. Turkmenistan was limited to exporting gas to its impoverished central Asian neighbors, who were unable to pay their bills. The nation then opened a pipeline route to Iran, generally agreed to be the most economical route for exporting Caspian oil, and thus ruffled the feathers of Iran's enemy, the U.S. So far, the new plan has not brought in money, and the country is living off loans from Western countries, such as Germany, who hope to partner with the oil-rich, money-poor country. In 2003, Russia agreed to buy 60 billion cubic meters of gas from Turkmenistan annually. At the time of the deal, Turkmenistan began to restrict the rights of its ethnic Russian citizens, infuriating Russia.
An alleged assassination attempt against Niyazov in Nov. 2002 (thought by outsiders to have been staged) resulted in the conviction of 46 opposition leaders and critics of the government.