Cars are getting bigger. Newer models of the Mini are 50 per cent larger than the 1959 original. Indeed, every time I leave the house I seem to encounter ever-expanding SUVs that threaten to block out the sun and decapitate anyone unfortunate enough to get in their way. But nothing, not even west London’s gaudiest, has anything that can match the awesome size and destructive power of the tank.
Upon hearing the rumbling of the first British-made Mark Is on 15 December 1916, German soldiers supposedly cried “the Devil is coming”. Like many early-stage technologies, tanks were cumbersome, slow (the Mark I had a top speed of 3.7mph) and prone to break down. And they were not advanced enough to end the trench stalemate and hand the allies swift victory. But the tank would go on to fundamentally change the nature of warfare in the twentieth century.
That is why Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has for months pleaded for Western tanks, which Kyiv says it needs to grant its forces the ability to pierce Russian defensive lines and recapture occupied territory. And today, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz relented (or possibly got his way, depending on your perspective) in announcing that Berlin would supply its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, and permit other countries to export their own.
Scholz was certainly facing intense pressure, but his key request has been met. The US has reversed its own position and now intends to supply its Abrams tanks to Ukraine, even if only small in number and largely to provide political cover to the Germans.
Indeed, the New York Times reports that the Biden administration had initially hoped that the British commitment to supply Challenger tanks would be sufficient to convince the Germans to send their Leopards, but Scholz held out for the Abrams.
It is to some extent now a race against time. These vast machines need to be transported to the right battlefields and Ukrainian soldiers must be trained to use them. In recent weeks, fierce fighting has continued around Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, where Russia has been making advances.
But both sides have been reconstituting over the winter ahead of likely major re-engagement in the spring. This will represent a new phase of the conflict, with Zelensky and western military advisors all too aware that Ukraine’s manpower advantage has been wiped out by Russia’s mobilisation.
All these commitments are still some way off the 300 tanks Zelensky has requested. But it is a major contribution and if Ukraine demonstrates an ability to regain territory in the coming months, past performance suggests he may receive more of what he wants. Remember last spring when the US was at pains to point out it was sending only defensive weapons to Ukraine?
There’s a joke, and I can’t for the life of me remember where I came across it, that the difference between defensive and offensive weapons is that the former contains stuff countries are prepared to supply, and the latter what they want to keep back. Sounds about right.
Elsewhere in the paper, it was a fairly punchy PMQs, with the tax affairs of Nadhim Zahawi dominating and Keir Starmer using his final of six questions to ask Rishi Sunak whether the prime minister was starting to wonder “if the job is just too big for him?”
In the comment pages, Ayesha Hazarika says Tory sleaze is a gift to Labour and calls on Nadhim Zahawi to go. She also criticises the government’s decision to reject a report from the Women and Equalities Select Committee which recommended doing a pilot study on menopause leave.
Meanwhile, City Hall Editor Ross Lydall reflects on the ongoing battle between the Mayor and outer London boroughs on the Ulez extension. And Homes & Property Editor Prudence Ivey says buying a home as a couple may be a symbol of commitment, but who wants to feel trapped with the wrong partner just to keep a roof over their head?
And finally, let’s talk about sects! Yes, more restaurants in London are starting to embrace the creepy crawlies that have been a delicious source of protein for thousands of years. Joanna Taylor suggests some places for a gentle introduction.
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