Kyrgyzstan Defense and Foreign Policy

Foreign policy and defense

Kyrgyzstan is a nation in Central Asia. Its capital city is Bishkek. Kyrgyzstan strives for good relations with both the old ruling power Russia and the new economic giant China. With its strategic location in the middle of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan is important to the great powers. From 2003 to 2014, the country was alone in the world to house both a Russian and a US military base on its territory.

Kyrgyzstan Defense and Foreign Policy

Kyrgyzstan was one of the smallest and poorest Soviet republics, and completely dependent on the rest of the Soviet Union. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, ties to Russia weakened. However, the entry of Islamist guerrilla groups into the country after the turn of the millennium led to closer military and security cooperation between Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian countries under the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

Kyrgyzstan was a member of the Eurasian Economic Community (Eurasec), together with Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan until January 1, 2015, when Eurasec dissolved. At the same time, another regional cooperation organization, the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), formally entered into force between Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Armenia. Kyrgyzstan joined the EEU in August 2015.

The terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001 led to Kyrgyzstan also forging closer security policy ties with the United States. Kyrgyzstan joined the US-led Alliance on Terrorism, allowed US soldiers at Manas Air Base outside Bishkek and opened its airspace for US military flights fighting the Taliban regime and the al-Qaeda terrorist network in Afghanistan. It was balanced with the fact that Russia was allowed to station combat aircraft and soldiers on the Kant military base on the other side of Bishkek. In 2003, the Kant base became the first new Russian military base in a former Soviet republic following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Islamic terrorism

Around the turn of the millennium, armed Islamists from the Uzbek Islamic Movement (IMU) moved several times into Kyrgyzstan via Tajikistan from bases in Afghanistan (see Modern History). They raised concerns in the Muslim Fergana Valley, where Kyrgyzstan borders on Uzbekistan. Following a hostage frame in 1999, Kyrgyzstan held a military exercise with Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan with the support of Russian military advisers. The cooperation has since continued.

In the densely populated Fergana Valley live a number of ethnic groups competing for land and water. The lively border trade is made more difficult when drug trafficking and armed groups are to be stopped. There are also old and new border disputes. Kyrgyzstan claims an Uzbek part of the Fergana Valley, and Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan dispute the Osh area of ‚Äč‚ÄčKyrgyzstan. There is also conflict over the river water, which flows down from the Kyrgyz mountains to the Uzbek plains. Uzbekistan is dependent on the river water for its huge cotton crops.

After the 2005 massacre at Andizjan in the Uzbek part of the Fergana Valley (see Uzbekistan, Modern History), many Uzbeks fled to Kyrgyzstan, which sought to resist the Uzbek regime’s pressure for the country to return the refugees. Uzbekistan’s security service has been active in Kyrgyzstan, and joint military operations have been carried out at the border of the Fergana Valley.

Relations with Uzbekistan sealed significantly in 2017 following a presidential shift in the neighboring country. Following President Mirzijojev’s accession to Uzbekistan 2016, significant progress was made in attempts to resolve the Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan border conflicts, and the value of trade between the two neighbors almost doubled in 2018.

The border with Tajikistan is partially unmarked and violent clashes occasionally erupt between livestock keepers about access to land and water. Since 2018, government-level work has been underway between the countries to speed up the process of marking the border.

China and the Uighurs

With growing trade, aid and investment, China’s economic – and political – significance for Kyrgyzstan has increased, which has worried both Russia and the United States. Kyrgyzstan borders on the politically troubled Chinese province of Xinjiang, where there are Uighurs who want their own state or want their rights respected. This makes the important relationship with China sensitive. Tens of thousands of Uighurs live in Kyrgyzstan, and according to the Beijing government, Islamist separatists have made raids from Kyrgyz territory bases into China, which has asked Kyrgyzstan to fight this activity.

Turkey and the Central Asian countries of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan cooperate on a number of issues and the summits are held regularly. Iran has tried to increase its influence in Kyrgyzstan, but without much success. Saudi Arabia and other Arab states support mosque construction and offer loans to industry.

Kyrgyzstan, together with other former Soviet republics, is part of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Kyrgyzstan and several CIS countries have a joint force against Islamic terrorism in Central Asia. The force is located in Bishkek.


Kyrgyzstan participates in the OSCE and has joined the NATO Partnership for Peace (PFP). The Kyrgyz support behind the US war in Afghanistan from 2001 has been rewarded with generous US assistance, but among the Kyrgyz there is opposition to US influence in the region.

In 2009, Kyrgyzstan threatened to close the US base Manas, but non-military transport was allowed to continue for another five years after the rent was sharply raised. At the same time, Russia was promised to establish a second military base in exchange for loans and assistance to Kyrgyzstan.

In June 2014, the US’s use of Manas for transit transports from Afghanistan ceased, and the approximately 1,000 US soldiers left the base. At the Kant base there are about 500 Russian soldiers. Negotiations for a second Russian military base have stalled.

Kyrgyzstan’s defense forces are small. The country relies on Russian and Uzbek military support to prevent guerrilla cross-border activity. Kyrgyzstan has also signed a security agreement with China on border surveillance. 18 months of general military service applies.


Army: 8,500 men (2017)

The air Force: 2 400 men (2017)

Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 3.2 percent (2017)

Military spending’s share of the state budget: 7.8 percent (2017)



Resignation claim after politician murder

A number of politicians with alleged ties to organized crime are murdered, triggering demonstrations demanding the resignation of President Bakijev and Prime Minister Kulov.


Kulov becomes new head of government

President Bakijev appoints Felix Kulov as new prime minister.


Bakijev becomes regular president

Acting President Kurmanbek Bakijev is elected as Head of State. According to Western observers, the choice is largely free and fair.


President Akaiev resigns

From the exile in Moscow, President Akajev reluctantly submits his resignation application. Thus, the so-called tulip revolution has been implemented.


Bakijev becomes new interim president

Kurmanbek Bakijev, leader of the Kyrgyz People’s Movement, is appointed prime minister and acting president of a temporary government. Felix Kulov, leader of the Kyrgyz People’s Congress, is released from prison (see Modern History) and given responsibility for police and security matters. Roza Otunbajeva becomes Foreign Minister.

President Akaiev flies after protests

The second round is held. The Election Commission announces that the opposition gets 5 out of 75 seats. The election results trigger demonstrations in southern Kyrgyzstan, where Akajev is unpopular. When the protests spread to the president’s home region in the north, he is forced to flee to Russia. The Supreme Court annuls the election because of widespread cheating.


Parliamentary elections are criticized for cheating

The first round of the parliamentary elections is held. Several opposition politicians are prevented from running for office. The opposition accuses the Akajev regime of electoral fraud, which is confirmed by European election observers. A wave of demonstrations is being carried out against President Askar Akajev and his regime.