Using energy exports as an engine of geopolitical influence is nothing new for Russia. Natural gas as a lever of influence across Europe is a staple of Moscow's playbook. And the global demand for alternative energy sources is expected to grow. However, the Western and Asian nuclear powers have not been able to capitalize because a combination of market forces (and the high capital costs of nuclear plants), political flux and negative social opinions have turned the tide against nuclear in many of the traditional powers.
Still, Russia has for the last several years been looking to expand its nuclear energy export strategy and to garner political influence on the global stage outside its oil and natural gas sectors. The approval of contracts (and the finalization of details) by Egypt's State Council with Russia's State Atomic Energy Corp. (Rosatom) earlier this month, along with a pending visit by President Vladimir Putin to Cairo, brought the strategy back to the forefront. As the rest of the world's nuclear power companies struggle, Russia has become the biggest player on the global scene. And because Rosatom is state-owned, it is not as subject to market principles as other builders. The company's strong order book is supported by attractive financing and contract conditions. Instead of focusing on advanced nuclear or small modular reactors, as Western leaders do, Russia has looked to end-to-end solutions, including waste disposal.
Moscow's dominant global position is not guaranteed and not without constraints. While Russia is not controlled by market forces as much as other major players, it is limited by its budget and simply cannot finance all its prospects. Beijing will soon be looking to compete for market share, especially in the developing world. China's domestic program isn't there quite yet, but Argentina's apparent shift from Russia to China on its latest nuclear project may indicate the competition is gaining on Moscow.