Russia’s state-run nuclear-energy company last week signed a $10-billion agreement to build the first two nuclear power plants in Jordan’s history. With America’s Arab allies fearing U.S. disengagement from the region – and closer engagement with Iran – the Jordanian deal is merely Moscow’s latest bid to make inroads among Washington’s jaded Middle East allies.
For Jordan, the reactors – both of which are slated to be built in the Amra region east of Amman – satisfy a basic need. Amid the instability sparked by internecine Arab fighting across the region, Amman hopes to reduce its reliance on foreign natural resources. Indeed, the government aims to use the country’s hitherto-undeveloped uranium reserves— which some analysts speculate could last up to 100 years — to cover 30% of its electricity needs by 2030.
The timing could not be more opportune. Jordan now confronts two crumbling states – Syria and Iraq – on its borders, and the task of providing basic services to the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled the violence into its territory.
As for Moscow, its regional designs extend far beyond the Hashemite kingdom. Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Cairo last month, promising to build Egypt’s first nuclear plant. Shortly thereafter, details emerged of Russian arms deals to Libya worth billions. Meanwhile, Putin has offered Turkey a long-sought missile-defense system at a similarly hefty price.
With Russian-American tensions at their highest since the Cold War, Moscow is keen to exploit fissures within the bloc of traditionally U.S.-led Middle Eastern states. These Sunni states are only too keen to realign so long as American influence continues to flag and an emboldened, potentially nuclear-armed Iran remains a distinct if not growing possibility.