The Cold Peace began to unravel after the ‘colour revolutions’ of 2003–05. In 2004 came the ‘big bang’ enlargement of Euro-Atlantic institutions, and a few years later the five-day war between Russia and Georgia, after which the EU began to play a more active role in post-Soviet Eurasia.

A decade and a half after the settlement-that-wasn’t marked the end of the Cold War, the best opportunity to forge a new, inclusive order for Europe and Eurasia had passed. The year 2004 brought the ‘big bang’ enlargement of Euro-Atlantic institutions, ushering the Baltic states and several adjacent countries into NATO and the EU.1 The Western umbrella now extended deep into the former imperium of the Soviet Union. But at that time one could find only hints of the ferociously adversarial behaviour that yielded a hot war in Ukraine a decade later. Russia was far from happy with what had transpired since 1989, and often exuded resentment. Yet it had a multilayered and interdependent relationship with the EU and its member states, a functional dialogue with the US and even some cooperation with NATO. Although Moscow was on guard about Western activity in post-Soviet Eurasia, the competition was still low-grade in comparison with today.

A few short years after the colour revolutions, tensions over geopolitics and geo-ideas reached unheard-of levels, a process that culminated in a five-day war between Russia and Georgia in August 2008. The focus then moved to geo-economics, as the EU became more active and Russia finally got serious about its plans for regional economic integration. While contingent factors temporarily eased tensions during the ‘reset’ interval, contestation had now been entrenched.

Samuel Charap is Senior Fellow for Russia and Eurasia, IISS.

Timothy J. Colton is Morris and Anna Feldberg Professor of Government and Russian Studies, Harvard University.

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