Destination Today

For years Kyrgyz politicians have been navigating a geopolitical tightrope between China, Russia and the USA over the Manas Air Base. From 2001 it was used by the US to conduct cargo and fuel sorties to Afghanistan and later was the main gateway from which US troops were being withdrawn from that war. However, true to Almazbek Atambayev's presidential pledge, the base closed in June 2014. Meanwhile Russia's air base at Kant, 20km east of Bishkek, will continue to function and has even expanded in recent years. Some analysts see this as a major geopolitical victory for Moscow.

Kyrgyzstan maintains good relations with its eastern neighbour and biggest trading partner, China. Seemingly endless trucks bring goods across the Torugart and Irkeshtam Passes but, worryingly for the Kyrgyz economy, almost all return empty.

Kazakhstan is both the figurative and literal big brother to Kyrgyzstan, with Kazakhstan owning 40% of the nation's banks. Relations with Uzbekistan are contrastingly tense, with an ongoing war of words over water and energy usage exacerbated by ethnic tensions, notably the fallout of the June 2010 Osh riots but also the 2013 skirmishes around the Uzbek enclave of Sokh.

The national economy is disproportionately reliant on the Canadian-owned Kumtor mine, which accounts for up to 12% of GDP annually. During 2013 there were major disturbances on the south coast of Issyk-Köl as demonstrators cut roads and power supplies to the high-altitude mine, perhaps to persuade the company to renegotiate a joint-venture agreement giving the state a substantial stake in the business.

In August 2015 Kyrgyzstan became a full member of the Moscow-led Eurasian Customs Union, which experts say hurt the country's re-export trade of Chinese goods into former Soviet states, but also allowed Kyrgyz economic migrants continued access to employment in Russia and beyond.

In the same period Chinese investment in Kyrgyzstan has risen significantly, with the country eyeing entry into China's 'One Belt, One Road' economic initiative as the country's direct investment into the local economy has risen from US$45 million in 2005 to nearly US$1 billion in recent years.

As ever, Kyrgyzstan's position at the heart of the Silk Road remains both one of its greatest assets and most difficult hurdles to overcome.