Russian foreign policy has undergone a renaissance over the past couple of years as its “progressive” faction emerged at the fore of decision-making and bravely pioneered non-traditional partnerships all across the “Ummah” (global Muslim community). This took place concurrently with the country’s “Pivot to Asia”, more accurately described as a “Rebalancing to Asia”, which also saw Russia engage in a diplomatic balancing act with Japan, Vietnam, and India – all of which has been to its Chinese ally’s benefit. Both Eastern (or in the case of the Ummah, Southern) vectors of contemporary Russian foreign policy were greatly enhance by Moscow’s use of military diplomacy in selling (or seeking to sell) weapons to competing sides of any given rivalry in order to maintain the strategic equilibirum between them and therefore preserve the overall peace.
The Core Concept Of Nuclear Diplomacy
Lost amid the more “newsworthy” and “headline-grabbing” manifestations of Russia’s foreign policy resurgence has been its use of nuclear diplomacy as a means of regaining its global strategic reach. This concept can be described as Russia’s effort to clinch nuclear energy partnerships with countries all across the world, and considering that it’s the global leader in this field, it’s been highly successful in this regard. Nuclear energy deals are important for much more than “green”/”clean energy” considerations, as they imply a very high-level and trusted relationship between the two parties. Moreover, every agreement that Russia reaches with its partners includes educational and technical components, meaning that Moscow usually ends up training a new cadre of scientific elites in the partner countries and continues to provide assistance to them for years after the reactor is built.
These long-term and largely unseen elements of Russia’s nuclear diplomacy allow one to speak of this approach as being a highly strategic manifestation of Moscow’s future planning, and accordingly, it also has geopolitical dimensions as well. The countries with which Russia seals nuclear energy deals are presumed to also be pursuing a parallel track of diplomacy in improving the all-around nature of their relationship, with the inclusion of nuclear diplomacy serving both as a symbol of this and also a catalyst designed to speed up the process in taking it to the next level. The exact nature of how this works varies from country to country, but the model remains the same – nuclear diplomacy is an integral component of Russia’s foreign policy toolkit, and it invariably carries with it significant geopolitical dimensions which have allowed Moscow to once again have a global strategic reach.
Great Power Friendship
Russia’s nuclear diplomacy can be split up into two categories of partnerships, Great Powers and Pivot States (including both actual and intended projects). The first are Russia’s privileged partners given the “19th-Century Great Power Chessboard” paradigm that’s driving its “progressive” foreign policy leaders, which to summarize, is that Russia prioritizes the betterment of all-around relations with its similarly sized Great Power peers at the perceived (key word) expense of its smaller- and medium-sized partners in order to advance the “greater good” of multipolarity. Unlike with military diplomacy, it’s difficult for any observer to identify a potential “zero-sum” tradeoff regarding Russia’s nuclear partnerships with Great Powers and Pivot States, though the point in bringing up this stratagem is that it explains why Russia has clinched important nuclear energy deals with India, Turkey, and Iran.
In addition, Russia’s talks on this topic with Egypt, Ethiopia, and even its possible bid in building a nuclear reactor in Saudi Arabia make a lot more sense when viewed through this paradigm. Moscow was previously excited about building a nuclear power plant in fellow BRICS-member South Africa, but this ambition was regrettably sidelined by a “deep state” quasi-judicial plot earlier this year and remains in limbo at the moment. Altogether, however, these seven countries are Great Powers in their given geographic spaces, and Russia’s employment of nuclear diplomacy with each of them – regardless of the success achieved this far – showcases Moscow’s desire to use this as means of solidifying long-standing relations such as the one with India, or streamlining new ones with non-traditional partners such as Saudi Arabia and post-Cold War Ethiopia, all of which could endow Russia with valuable geostrategic benefits in the New Cold War.
Pivot State Partnerships
As for the Pivot States, notable examples to bring up are Bolivia, Paraguay, Hungary, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia. The first two compromise part of the “Pivot Belt” that the author extensively analyzed in his book-length article series about South American geopolitics, and they allow Russia to importantly hold sway in the continent’s central heartland right near the middle of China’s planned Transoceanic Railroad. As for Hungary, this Russian-friendly country sits squarely in the center of Central Europe and endows Russia with a useful partner in the EU. Bangladesh and Myanmar, for their part, are indispensable components of the overland portion of India’s “Act East” policy of ASEAN engagement, and Russia’s desire to strengthen ties with them by means of nuclear diplomacy is a prudent move to give itself a strategic presence along this competitive connectivity route which could one day pave the way for future commercial ventures.
There’s also another reason why Myanmar is the focus of Russia’s nuclear diplomacy nowadays, and it’s because it pairs excellently with Laos and Cambodia in providing Moscow with a strategic “backdoor” to ASEAN via its poorest members. Although the author described the rationale behind this in a previous article elaborating on how Russia could take advantage of these three states’ special economic zones (SEZs), the same logic holds true for nuclear diplomacy and other forms of cooperation as well. Taken together, Russia’s nuclear diplomacy outreaches to pivotally positioned states such as the seven that were mentioned above demonstrates that Moscow is keenly aware of their strategic significance and is using this high-level track of diplomacy to comprehensively deepen its relations with them, focusing first on nuclear energy cooperation and then eventually expanding its ties to include economic, military, and political elements with time.
Russia is the world leader in the nuclear energy field, and it regularly uses this to its benefit in strengthening relations with Great Powers and Pivot States alike, whether long-running partners inherited from the Soviet period or non-traditional ones which have been reached out to recently. The clever use of nuclear diplomacy has seen Moscow expand its influence into regions of the “Global South” which it would otherwise be unable to compete in, such as South America, Africa, and South-Southeast Asia, and then leverage this advantage to promote its own multidimensional interests in the economic, military, political, and other spheres of bilateral relations. The impressive geographic scope of Russia’s nuclear diplomacy has allowed the country to regain its global strategic reach, but unlike in the Old Cold War when Moscow was exporting the communist ideology to these far-flung regions as a means of acquiring influence there, this time in the New Cold War it’s exporting nuclear energy technology there to do the same thing but in a much more sustainable way.
DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.