CNBC’s Inside India newsletter: Modi in Moscow. What’s new?

In Asia

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi take a walk during an informal meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence, outside Moscow, on July 8, 2024. (Photo by Gavriil GRIGOROV / Sputnik POOL / AFP) (Photo by GAVRIIL GRIGOROV/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Gavriil Grigorov | Afp | Getty Images

This report is from this week’s CNBC’s “Inside India” newsletter which brings you timely, insightful news and market commentary on the emerging powerhouse and the big businesses behind its meteoric rise. Like what you see? You can subscribe here.

The big story

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin sat down for tea at a country retreat outside Moscow earlier this week.

The meeting is likely to have set tempers to boiling point in Washington, D.C., where the NATO military alliance was convening at the same time.

While the 32 national leaders of the military alliance have largely kept their displeasure of the Moscow meeting private, the United States said it had raised concerns directly with India about its relationship with Russia. More broadly, the U.S. has threatened to sanction entities seen to be doing business with Russia to defund Putin’s onslaught against Kyiv.

While India has pushed back on any pressure, its relationship with Russia is not new.

Moscow has been India’s largest weapons supplier for historical reasons. Russia has also supplied India with nuclear fuel since the 1990s and lately has also been helping build nuclear reactors.

However, since the war in Ukraine began, oil imports from Russia have gone up. This week, trade data from the Russian government showed that grain imports by India had risen 22 times in the last harvesting season. Modi went further and thanked Putin for supporting Indian farmers with a stable and cheap fertilizer supply.

The underlying theme behind this trade reveals the motivations behind India’s transactional relationship with Russia.

Consumer inflation in India is high and volatile, which hurt Modi’s election performance last month, and the prime minister is doing his best to keep prices down for his citizens. Far from a strategic relationship, India is buying goods from the cheapest supplier.

Meanwhile, Indian imports of defensive equipment from the West have shot up, and the share of Russian weapons in India’s armed forces has been gradually declining since reaching a high in 2013.

“I think there is an understanding that as long as we keep seeing continued progress, deeper partnership between India and the United States — military and economic co-operation — we are willing to let India go a little bit further with Russia without necessarily invoking sanctions,” Rick Rossow, chair of U.S.-India policy studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNBC.

“We’d like the optics to dial down a little bit, but overall, I don’t think we’re not going to sacrifice the relationship because of it.”

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hold an informal meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence, outside Moscow, on July 8, 2024. (Photo by Gavriil GRIGOROV / Sputnik POOL / AFP) (Photo by GAVRIIL GRIGOROV/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Gavriil Grigorov | Afp | Getty Images

Even equity investors see through the relationship and have discounted the threat of retaliation against India.

“Does Modi see [Russia] as anything more than a bargaining counter? That I have difficulty imagining,” Mark Martyrossian, director at Aubrey Capital, told CNBC’s Inside India.

Martyrossian added that while some investors might change the way they see India — subscribing to the view that trading with Russia enables its war machine — it would not impact Indian companies on their investment potential. More than half of Aubrey’s Global Emerging Markets fund is invested in India.

Beyond trade, India also has stronger cultural ties to the West. Millions of Indians live in the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom and share many of their host nations’ values.

While it might appear India is behaving prudently in its trading relationship, a much-rumored long-term energy deal with Russia will likely come with a sting.

Just ask Germany what happens when a nation gets into long-term contracts for cheap energy from Russia.

Need to know

China says India has no right to build in the border region. A week after China’s foreign minister and his Indian counterpart met in Kazakhstan, India reportedly announced plans to build 12 hydropower stations in the contested northeastern Himalayan region. Beijing, which calls the region South Tibet, has now said those plans are “illegal and invalid.”

The state of Uttar Pradesh waives taxes on hybrid cars. The move to remove vehicle registration fees, expected to make hybrid cars 10% cheaper, has delivered a big win for Japan’s Toyota Motor. Shares of Maruti Suzuki, India’s top carmaker, which produces and sells hybrid cars in partnership with Toyota, surged by 5.5% after local media reported on the state’s tax break.

Ambani wedding enters final phase. The wedding of Anant Ambani, the youngest son of Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani, to Radhika Merchant is happening this weekend. Its generated buzz across the world with an elite guest list including politicians, top CEOs, Bollywood stars, and other celebrities. Back in March, tech executives including Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates attended a lavish three-day pre-wedding celebration.

What happened in the markets?

The Indian stock market has been cautious ahead of the quarterly earnings season. The Nifty 50 index has been broadly flat this week. The index has risen 12% so far this year.

The benchmark 10-year Indian government bond yield has XXX. Waiting for U.S. inflation data.

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On CNBC TV this week, Suntory, one of the oldest Japanese whisky makers, said it is looking for local partners to bottle and distribute its products in India. “We want to bring something new to the Indian market,” Chief Executive Takeshi Niinami told CNBC. The $10.8 billion firm will be adapting its products to cater to India’s culture and trends, Niinami added.

Meanwhile, the Indian government’s budget, expected to be revealed later this month, “will lay down the foundations” for the country’s economy for the next five years, according to Nilesh Shah, managing director at Kotak Mahindra Asset Management. “Clearly, the market will be watching [that] the impossible trinity of investing for infrastructure, along with fiscal prudence and support for the [people] at the bottom end of the pyramid is all managed,” Shah said. 

What’s happening next week?

Aside from the glitzy wedding this weekend, here’s what to expect in the week ahead:

July 12: India industrial output

July 15: China GDP, India wholesale inflation

July 16: Canada inflation

July 17: U.K. inflation

July 18: U.K. unemployment, ECB interest rate

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CNBC’s Inside India newsletter: Modi in Moscow. What’s new?

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