This chapter examines the foundational years of the post-Cold War order (from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s), telling the tale of the ‘Cold Peace’. The period was typified by the rise of competition in and over the states between Russia and the West (the ‘In-Betweens’), and Central Asia.

Where to find the roots of the disastrous scene at the Donetsk airport? One might well look to background factors such as Russian imperialism, ancestral enmities over language and religion, Soviet nationality practices, and the micro-history of Crimea and the Donbas. Although variables like these are germane at some level of abstraction, our emphasis is on dynamics in the relative foreground.

The Ukraine crisis, as we see it, comes out of self-reinforcing adversarial behaviour in the post-Soviet section of the Eurasian macroregion. Stretching over a quarter-century but gathering momentum in the second half of that time span, this contest has given rise to a belt of instability, insecurity and discontent of which Ukraine is but one part. The multidimensional rivalries percolating there encapsulate three ‘geos’ pursued by states and blocs of states: geopolitics, which is standard-issue realpolitik with special attention to attaining influence over particular countries or areas; geo-economics, or the projection of power over territory using economic means, an exercise defined by ‘the logic of war in the grammar of commerce’;1 and geo-ideas, by which we mean policies to spread normative conceptions of the good and the right beyond national borders.2

The current chapter tells the tale of the Cold Peace, in Boris Yeltsin’s evocative phrase. It is bookended by the implosion of the Soviet Union’s zone of external hegemony at the end of the 1980s, which, despite the giddiness of the moment, left some bedrock issues unresolved, and a natural inflection point in 2003–04, the highlight of which was the ‘colour revolutions’ that tore through several post-Soviet states. Later chapters will deal with the more conflictual periods to come.

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.

Back to content list

Russia and Eurasia Programme

The IISS Russia and Eurasia Programme focuses on the politics, political economy, and international relations of Russia and the other states of post-Soviet Eurasia.


The US and Russia in the Asia-Pacific

The product of over two years of Track II dialogue between Asia-Pacific experts, this report discusses how the US and Russia both depend on developments in the Asia-Pacific region for their future prosperity and security.

Table of Contents

Available to download as a PDF >

Watch the authors discuss their book