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Sensemaker: Leopards’ leap

Sensemaker: Leopards’ leap

What just happened

Long stories short

  • A 72 year-old gunman named Huu Can Tran shot himself after killing 10 people at a Lunar New Year celebration in California. 
  • New Zealand’s next prime minister, Chris Hipkins, promised to focus on the cost-of-living crisis. 
  • Dubai’s newest luxury hotel paid Beyoncé a reported $24 million for a one-off concert.

Leopards’ leap

Germany’s chancellor missed yet another chance yesterday to promise Ukraine the Leopard 2 tanks that could help reverse Russia’s invasion. But a few hours later his foreign minister spoke from a different script. She said Germany “would not stand in the way” if Poland asked to send its Leopards while Berlin continued to make up its mind.

So what? This brings closer the spectacle of German battle tanks rolling across Eastern Europe in a major land war for the first time since 1945. Annalena Baerbock’s remark last night on French TV is significant on three levels:

  • Diplomacy. It’s the clearest indication yet that Germany will lift the re-export ban it attaches to consignments of tanks when selling them to other countries – a ban that has so far prevented any of the 2,000 Leopard 2s in Europe being sent to Ukraine.
  • Strategy. Those 2,000 include 250 operated by Poland, which alone could satisfy Kyiv’s urgent request for an initial brigade’s worth of Western tanks (usually around 100), to be used as the speartip of a spring offensive in the south or to repel the next big Russian attack, or both.
  • History. 22 January may yet be seen as Germany’s true Zeitenwende – the turning point first announced by Chancellor Scholz 11 long months ago, when his country’s foreign and defence policies finally adapted to the new reality created when Putinism went to war. 

The caveats. Baerbock says Berlin hasn’t yet received a formal request from Poland to export its tanks. Germany is still wrestling with its conscience, its collective memory and deep political and generational divides. 

  • Half of Germany’s people don’t want to send tanks because of a deep-rooted conviction that their country can never again be seen to resort to force, even in pursuit of peace.
  • Scholz is trying to hold together a coalition of three parties whose two largest members – the Greens and the Social Democrats – have powerful pacifist wings he can’t ignore.
  • He also has a divided cabinet. Baerbock, from the Greens, is unlikely to have been freelancing last night but she said what Scholz conspicuously hasn’t. Boris Pistorius, the new defence minister, has so far fallen into line with Scholz but has no experience of defence policy and little clout. The centre-right Free Democrats, like Kyiv and its other allies, are losing patience. “History is watching us and Germany has unfortunately failed,” says Agnes-Marie Strack-Zimmermann, a Free Democrat MP.

Ostpolitik. An eastward-facing foreign policy has defined the Social Democrats’ worldview since before the Soviet collapse. As their leader, Scholz is steeped in the politics of reunification and the economics of mutual dependence on the former Soviet satellites of Eastern Europe. That in turn has depended on cheap Russian energy. 

But Realpolitik has forced a fundamental rethink. The Zelensky government and its supporters in Washington and elsewhere are publicly infuriated by Scholz’s hesitation on the Leopard 2 question but Germany is the second biggest supplier of military aid to Ukraine after the US and has bought no Russian gas since September last year. 

It is wary of provoking an escalation and fearful, because of history, of being seen to lead on the military front. But incrementalism may get Ukraine the tanks it needs in the end. It is probably no coincidence that Baerbock’s promise not to object if Poland sent its Leopards followed swiftly on a hint from Emmanuel Macron that France might send battle tanks too. 


Sunak’s problem is that he’s right. The voters aren’t idiots

Matthew d’Ancona

The controversies over Nadhim Zahawi’s tax affairs and Richard Sharp’s role in securing a loan for Boris Johnson will entrench the public’s impression of the Conservatives as fatally out of touch


Short and curlies
Citadel, the hedge fund founded by the Republican donor Ken Griffin, has had a bumper year. Its flagship portfolio made a 38 per cent return in 2022, and the fund made $16 billion in profit for investors, according to an annual ranking from LCH Investments. This beats John Paulson’s $15 billion “greatest trade ever”, made in 2007 by betting against the housing bubble. Citadel thrived in a good year for “multi-manager” funds, which make money by running a range of strategies, and a hairy year for funds pursuing the traditional approach of making long/short wagers on stocks. Tiger Global, which has focused on Chinese tech stocks, had a particularly grisly 2022, with a 56 per cent loss.


Big sur
Brazil and Argentina say they will advance discussions on a common South American currency. In a joint article published ahead of a summit in Buenos Aires this week, Brazil’s president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Argentine leader Alberto Fernandez said a new currency would reduce costs and external vulnerability. The Financial Times reported that the currency – perhaps called the sur (south) – would at first run in parallel with the Brazilian real and Argentine peso. If created – a big if – it could eventually become the world’s second-largest currency bloc. 

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Caffeine levels
There are more than 9,500 branded coffee outlets across the UK, three times more than in 2009. Frothy milk and fancy pastries aside, their main selling point is the caffeine kick. But Which? Magazine analysis found the amount of milligrams of caffeine per cup varies wildly. Costa’s cappuccino has 325 mg of caffeine, five times more than Starbucks’ 66 mg. Pret and Greggs filter coffees are also strong with over 200 mg of caffeine. For comparison, your average tea bag will have around 75 mg.  What causes the disparities? 1 – the number of espresso shots; 2 – the type of bean (Robusta has almost double the caffeine of Arabica); 3 – the roast (the darker the roast the weaker the coffee); and 4 – the region, as climate and altitude affect caffeine levels.

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Clean and clear
The UK risks falling behind the EU and US in the race for green technologies if the government doesn’t intervene with similar subsidies, warns the director-general of the CBI. In a speech today, Tony Danker will say that Europe and America are “outspending and outsmarting” the UK when it comes to supporting green tech via incentives and deregulation, with a potential £4.3 billion loss in market share for hydrogen and batteries over the past two years. In at least one area, the government has got the memo: £600 million in funding is to be announced by the chancellor to help Britain’s steel industry drop coal. But the switch to “green steel”, which is made using hydrogen, raises more questions about the government’s decision to open a new coal mine in Cumbria. Last week, a review of Britain’s Net Zero policies by the Tory MP Chris Skidmore called for more “consistency and clarity” in the government’s approach.


Passing the buck
Dozens of unaccompanied children have gone missing from a hotel in Brighton used by the Home Office to house asylum seekers, with some reportedly kidnapped by gangs. The Observer reported that around 600 unaccompanied children have stayed at the Sussex hotel over the past 18 months, with 136 reported missing. Around 79 are still unaccounted for, the paper claimed. Police chiefs have previously warned that organised criminals were targeting Channel migrants at asylum hotels and children’s homes. It’s worth noting that the local council referred the newspaper’s queries about criminals targeting children to the police; the police referred them to the Home Office; the Home Office placed responsibility back on the local authorities. 

The week ahead


23/01 – Ambulance staff in England and Wales go on strike; Office for National Statistics (ONS) releases new data from 2021 census on ethnic groups; Tony Danker, the CBI director general, gives speech on UK’s growth prospects, 24/01 – David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary, sets out Labour’s foreign policy agenda at Chatham House think tank, 25/01 – Burns Night; first strike by Amazon workers in the UK at a warehouse in Coventry, 26/01 – Health and care workers in Northern Ireland and NHS physiotherapists in England go on strike; Jim Harra, HMRC chief executive, appears at the public accounts committee, 27/01 – ONS releases new data from 2021 census on long-term international migration in England and Wales.


23/01 – Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva begins state visit to Argentina; European Space Agency director-general Josef Aschbacher gives annual address, 24/01 – 15th European Space Conference begins in Brussels; Oscar nominations announced, 25/01 – Cabin crew at Portugal’sTAP airline begin strike action, 26/01 – Australia Day national holiday; India’s Republic Day national holiday, 27/01 – Holocaust Memorial Day; European Banking Authority launches EU-wide stress test of banks, 28/01 – Second round of Czech Republic presidential election concludes.

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Giles Whittell

Additional reporting by Jessica Winch, Jeevan Vasagar, Barney Macintyre and Phoebe Davis.

Photographs Getty Images, AP/Shutterstock

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