Russia has been notoriously brazen in using state-owned companies as instruments of national power. President Vladimir Putin's natural-gas wars with Belarus and Ukraine made headlines and sometimes left substantial parts of Europe in the cold. But Moscow's exploits in other energy-related areas have been less noticed.

Recent revelations about the concerted Russian effort to buy up uranium resources across the globe may change that. For Moscow's state-owned nuclear-energy company, Rosatom, has made successful inroads into markets around the world. Rosatom has 29 nuclear reactors in various stages of planning and construction in more than 12 countries, the largest number of nuclear reactors being built globally. In contrast, Areva, though largely owned by the French state, has not sold a reactor since 2007.

Much of Rosatom's success can be ascribed to the strong support provided by the government. Moscow recognizes that Rosatom's work enables Russia to add another energy-related means of extending its long-term political influence throughout the world. Unlike oil or gas projects, Russia's nuclear developments need not be in nearby countries or even in its region — a fact that broadens the Kremlin's investment options.