Russia’s Nuclear Diplomacy

How Washington Should Respond

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in Budapest, Hungary, February 2017.  Alexei Druzhinin / Kremlin via REUTERS

For signs of Russia’s geopolitical resurgence, look no further than Hungary. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 2015 visit there was a quiet affair. At the time, Putin was coming under intense international pressure for his annexation of Crimea. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was the first European leader to host Putin after the invasion. In an effort to deepen energy cooperation, Moscow extended a ten billion euro ($10.7 billion) loan to Budapest to finance the Russian state firm Rosatom’s expansion of the Paks Nuclear Power Plant in central Hungary, which supplies 40 percent of Hungary’s electricity.

When Putin travelled to Hungary again this February, it was under more triumphal circumstances. Standing next to the Russian president, Orbán spoke about a world “in the process of substantial realignment.” Before he left, Putin had agreed to finance the entire Paks project.

Moscow’s offer to Budapest was not a one-off deal; it was a material display of Russia’s emerging nuclear diplomacy. The Kremlin appears to be pressing its formidable nuclear market power to influence and bind countries around the world to its irredentist and revanchist aims. Unless the United States restores its leadership in the global nuclear economy, this scene could play out repeatedly for decades.


Although atomic energy is in steady decline in the EU, United States, Japan, and elsewhere, it is poised for growth in the world’s emerging economies. In an effort to combat climate change, ten countries accounting for more than one-third of the world’s energy demand—including three without existing nuclear programs—are already incorporating nuclear power into the climate pledges they made under the Paris Agreement. These include China, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. Asian countries alone are forecasted to increase nuclear power generation sixfold by 2040. And even India, whose climate strategy relies mostly on solar deployment, plans to boost its nuclear capacity eightfold. Although such plans might seem overly ambitious in the short term, they signal

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