New Zealand’s new leader. Modi accused over deadly train attack. Egypt on the brink of economic collapse. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Germany allows the release of tanks to Ukraine

People in Berlin march in support of combat tank delivery to the Ukrainian military.
People in Berlin march in support of combat tank delivery to the Ukrainian military.
Credit: Reuters / Lisi Niesner

Great power rivalry

Ukraine: Germany will send tanks to Ukraine after coming under pressure from European countries to allow delivery of its Leopard 2 tanks, which could turn the course of the war.

Britain last week announced plans to send 14 tanks to Ukraine, but Kyiv said the British models were “not sufficient to achieve operational goals” and urged countries that have the Leopard 2 to send them. About 2000 Leopard 2 tanks – which are superior to most Russian models – are held across Europe. But nations that have the tanks need Germany’s permission to transfer them to other countries. Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, initially appeared reluctant to allow the tanks to be transferred to an active battlefield – a reticence that was widely seen as a reflection of the country’s military caution since World War II.

But he eventually relented,  agreeing on Wednesday to supply 14 tanks to Ukraine and to approve transfer requests by Poland and other European countries. The United States also announced it will supply 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine – a move designed to help relieve the pressure on Germany.

Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, Andrij Melnyk, this week thanked Germany for its “historic decision”.

“Now we urge all our Western allies to establish a powerful tank coalition, which would help us push out the Russian invaders in early spring,” he said.

Ukraine is expected to use the tanks to try to push through Russian lines in eastern Ukraine. But the American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark A. Milley, said last week that Ukraine would still need time to assemble the tanks and train forces to use them.

“During this year, it would be very, very difficult for Ukraine to eject Russian forces from all of Russian-occupied Ukraine,” he told reporters.

“That doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but it will be very, very difficult.” 

The neighbourhood

New Zealand: Chris Hipkins was sworn in as prime minister of New Zealand on Wednesday, replacing Jacinda Ardern who was farewelled by tearful MPs as she declared she was “ready to be a sister and a mum”.

Ardern, who became prime minister in 2017, resigned last week, saying she no longer had “enough in the tank”.

Hipkins, who oversaw the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, was the only person nominated for the Labour Party leadership. The new deputy prime minister is Carmel Sepuloni, the first person of Pacific Islander descent to hold the role.

Hipkins, who is 44 years old, has promised to focus on the economy and on the country’s soaring inflation. He faces an election in October as polls show Labour trailing the National Party.

“It feels pretty real now,” he said after the swearing-in ceremony.

At her final appearance as leader, Ardern said her advice for Hipkins was to be himself.

“It’s for him to carve out his own space, be his own kind of leader,” she told reporters.

Asked to reflect on her prime ministership, she said: “My overwhelming experience in this job, of New Zealand and New Zealanders, has been one of love, empathy and kindness.”

Democracy in retreat

India: In 2002, a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was set alight in the Indian state of Gujarat, killing 59 people. The attack, allegedly by a group of Muslims, was followed by some of the worst riots in India’s history that continued for three days and left an estimated 1000 to 2000 people – mostly Muslims – dead.

At the time, the chief minister of Gujarat was Narendra Modi, from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. Modi, who is now India’s prime minister, was accused of claiming that Hindus should be allowed to vent their anger and of being slow to quell the violence. He has repeatedly denied the allegations. But the controversy over Modi’s role has resurfaced following the release of a BBC documentary that suggests he was directly responsible and cites a secret British government report that concluded the events had “the hallmarks of an ethnic cleansing”. The documentary has not aired in India but was fiercely condemned by the Modi government. Last weekend, the government invoked emergency powers to prevent the documentary from being screened and to order the removal of clips that were shared on YouTube and Twitter.

Arindam Bagchi, a spokesperson for India’s foreign affairs ministry, told reporters: “The bias and lack of objectivity and frankly continuing colonial mindset are blatantly visible.”

Since becoming prime minister in 2014, Modi has been accused of curbing press freedoms and legitimising discrimination against Muslims and other minorities.

The BBC said in a statement that the documentary was “rigorously researched” and based on interviews with a wide range of witnesses and experts.

“We offered the Indian government a right to reply,” the broadcaster said. “It declined to respond.”

Spotlight: Egypt in crisis

For more than 80 years, Egypt has subsidised its bread, which has boosted demand for it in a nation where the average wage is about $45 a week. The subsidies have also made Egypt, which is dry and ill-suited to mass grain production, the world’s largest importer of wheat. In 2020, Egypt imported about 50 per cent more wheat than China, the second-largest importer.

But the invasion of Ukraine curbed the flow of wheat from Ukraine and Russia – two of the world’s biggest suppliers – and sent prices soaring. The war also caused a drop in visitor numbers from Russia and Ukraine, two of Egypt’s main sources of tourists.These setbacks, combined with surging global inflation and soaring public debt, have left Egypt on the brink of economic collapse. Wages have slumped, the currency has halved in value and food has become so unaffordable the government recently recommended that people eat chicken feet, one of the cheapest meat items. The government has also expanded its bread subsidy program, which will require greater imports of wheat, despite the weakness of the Egyptian pound.

The crisis has led to growing questions about the policies of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former army chief who seized power in a military coup in 2013. He has embarked on a massive infrastructure program, including projects such as a new capital, the expansion of the Suez Canal, Africa’s tallest skyscraper and the world’s longest monorail. He has also transferred control of large parts of the economy to the military, which now runs pasta factories, hotels and movie studios.

Wary of a backlash, the president has blamed the current crisis on the war in Ukraine and the pandemic. At a speech on Monday to mark Police Day, he defended his mega-projects, saying: “There wasn’t anything unimportant that we worked on, or a miscalculation that we made.”

Officially, Police Day fell on January 25, which marks the anniversary of Egypt’s Arab Spring uprising that led to the toppling of a dictator and the election of a new government, which President Abdel Fattah overthrew.

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on January 28, 2023 as "Germany allows the release of tanks to Ukraine".

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