This article examines the conditions under which great powers succeed or fail to shape a cooperative security agenda in their shared neighbourhoods. It compares Russia's interactions with the EU and with China in their respective shared neighbourhoods: the EU's Eastern Neighbourhood region and Central Asia. The article applies a synthetic framework. It analyses how the interplay between three factors – ideas, capabilities and circumstantial factors such, as the personalities of leading politicians, – shape the process of interaction between great powers. It starts from a comparison of the images of the two regions in Russia's mind-set because such images provide cognitive lenses through which powers make sense of political developments in shared neighbourhoods. The article then moves to show how change in the balance of power (soft and hard) created enabling conditions for competition/collaboration. Finally, the article shows how specific circumstantial factors led to or shaped the Russian-European conflict. At the same time, similar factors prevented Russian-Chinese conflict in Central Asia.