The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit was a mixed bag.

The summit’s mood in Samarkand, Uzbekistan was a somber one, toned down by Russia’s unpopular invasion of Ukraine, and a series of other pressing global crises.

New initiatives were planned to develop economic and transport corridors, tourism, and the expansion of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Bilateral trade between Russia and China has reached around $146.9 billion. India plans to increase its purchases of Russian oil, coal, and fertilizer. India is one of Russia’s largest fuel customers since the start of the war in Ukraine.

Pakistan plans to import more Russian gas and Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered to build a pipeline to supply it. Pakistan is in desperate need of Russian gas to meet its needs.

A joint statement on climate change was released calling for a balance between reducing carbon emissions and allowing poorer states to catch up with developed countries.

The summit was expected to provide a chance for Russia and China to make a case for new world order. However, the war has sowed divisions, as no government, except for a smattering of countries like Belarus, fully backs Putin’s war of choice. Clinched in confrontation with the West, Putin has denied isolation, but the summit proved otherwise.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was not widely condemned by the summit participants. Only Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Putin to return occupied territory to Ukraine.

Some Central Asian leaders have expressed concerns about Russian behavior. Kazakhstan and Pakistan both refuse to toe Moscow’s line. Kazakhstan has aided Ukraine. China’s refusal to condemn Russia has caused unease among some countries, hindering efforts at building regional ties.

Complicating the picture is India, which like China, it has not outrightly condemned Russia, nor participated in Western sanctions targeting Russia. India has strong military ties with Russia but is changing its tune. Both China and India have mildly criticized Russia. On September 21, Putin raised the threat of a nuclear response and ordered a partial mobilization. So far, Putin seems undaunted by the criticism.

India has repeatedly called for diplomacy. Narendra Modi’s recent criticism of Russia is a setback for Putin. Additionally, Modi did not meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The two have not met since a border skirmish more than two years ago. Delhi is wary of Beijing’s growing regional influence, especially in Pakistan.

With that said, Modi did not meet with his Pakistan counterpart either.

Economic cooperation between China and Russia is likely to grow. However, China is trying to stay out of the Ukraine mess. While Putin’s war has yet to spread beyond Ukraine, it could trigger a larger war between Russia and NATO. Therefore, China has wisely urged Russia to de-escalate and has called for a cease-fire.

The summit failed to take any meaningful action on the current global food and energy crisis linked to the war. The region also requires massive investment in climate resilience development.

For Putin, the summit was a chance to show that Russia is not isolated. For Xi, it was an opportunity to shore up his credentials as a global political leader. Both failed.

Perhaps, in the end, any condemnation on the part of the summit participants was asking for too much given Russia’s ability to strangle the world’s food and energy supplies.

Sohail Mahmood is an independent political analyst focused on global politics, U.S. foreign policy, governance, and the politics of South and West Asia.