Delighted Ukrainians shared selfies on social media today showing off their leopard-print clothes.
The women donned coats, tops and leggings. A soldier draped a blanket over his shoulders. A child apologized for only being able to find slippers.
The reason was simple: the cautious German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, had given in to growing pressure at home and abroad to sanction the use of his Leopard 2 tanks in Kyiv’s existential struggle for survival in the face of the Assault of Vladimir Putin.
This decision is a boost for Ukraine after 11 months of war. There are more than 2,000 of these German-designed tanks in the arsenals of 13 European nations, but Berlin’s approval was needed before anyone could head to the battlefront.
Ukrainian MP Inna Sovsun (left) posed in a leopard-print shirt, awaiting the decision on the Leopard tanks, while Victoria Yarkaya (right) posted a selfie in a leopard-print blouse with the tag ” Free the leopards”.
Ukrainian activists gather outside the German Embassy in Tbilisi today to demand that Germany send Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine
Ukraine’s official Instagram account wrote: “Put on your favorite leopard clothes and post a selfie with #FreeTheLeopards”
Scholz brazenly asserted that ‘Germany will always be a pioneering support for Ukraine’ as he made his ‘historic’ decision to send 14 tanks to Ukraine and allow countries like Finland and Poland to do the same.
The reality is quite different. Britain last week offered 14 Challenger 2 tanks to urge others into action – but Scholz dithered, seeking to appease factions in his party and in Germany more generally.
Keep in mind that Germany’s last chancellor of his left-leaning Social Democratic party was Gerhard Schroder, a close friend of Putin who made millions promoting the Kremlin policies that made Europe so dependent on energy. Russian.
Yet, as Boris Johnson wrote in an impassioned piece for this newspaper on Tuesday, there was no reason to delay.
“Why aren’t we giving Ukrainians all the help they need, now, when they need it?” he rightly asked, after a visit to the battered suburbs of Kyiv. ‘What exactly are we waiting for?’
Ukrainian officials first requested these tanks ten months ago, and it will take another three months before they are ready for combat operations. The United States is also sending over 31 M1 Abrams tanks.
An Instagram snap featured a Bichon Frize wearing leopard print sunglasses sitting on a matching blanket, with a #freetheleopards banner
Another social media meme showed a man in a leopard print jacket, with the hashtag #freetheleopards
These machines can make a difference, as they are faster and technologically superior to Soviet-era Ukrainian tanks, while their guns are compatible with NATO ammunition at a time when supplies for their existing equipment are dwindling.
Time is critical, as both sides use the winter to regroup ahead of planned spring offensives. Moscow is bolstering defenses along the 600-mile front line, sending in freshly mobilized reserves and trying to settle tensions between its military leaders and the Wagner Group mercenaries. Ukraine is adapting to the traditional Russian tactic of throwing waves of men into battle regardless of casualties, as it incorporates NATO equipment into its forces.
Yesterday Kyiv confirmed it had withdrawn from the shattered city of Soledar to ‘preserve the lives of military personnel’, with officials saying their forces were facing up to five times as many Russians. This underlines the scale of the challenge. Still, Ukraine remains confident of eventual victory, given enough help.
Now we need to step up the support. Kyiv needs longer-range fighter jets and missiles, especially ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile Systems) ammunition for use with the American-made HIMARS rocket launchers already in Ukraine.
These weapons could strike anywhere inside Ukraine – including Crimea – to disrupt Moscow’s logistics, cut supply lines and force the return of ammunition dumps.
A protester holds a sign reading ‘Free the Leopards Olaf Scholz’ in Berlin
A Ukrainian woman posted under #freetheleopards on Twitter to celebrate Ukraine’s receipt of Leopard 2 tanks from Germany
Although Germany had to be pressured into sending tanks, the West again defied Putin’s expectations that the alliance supporting Ukraine would crumble as the war dragged on. Instead, widespread recognition that his failed invasion was an attack not just on an independent nation, but on the very nature of European democracy fuels that support.
There are understandable fears of escalation. These are inflamed by the Kremlin, with chilling warnings of nuclear war and absurd claims that the dispatch of Western tanks proves that Russia is the victim of a “pre-planned war”.
But it is too late to worry: Ukraine is the battleground by proxy between democracy and dictatorship. And that finally became clear to the West from the moment Russian missiles began raining down on Kyiv and Kharkiv last February.
Have no doubt that the fault lies entirely with Putin, or that Ukraine’s defeat would be disastrous for democracies and our common liberal values of freedom.
Few countries understand this better than the nations that threw off the chains of Moscow three decades ago after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Take tiny Estonia, which gave more per capita than any other country to help defend Ukraine.
“Estonians know from their painful history what happens when evil triumphs and a large country swallows up smaller ones,” Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said. “If Ukraine falls, freedom is also in danger elsewhere in the world.”
She’s right. That’s why we must ignore the timid and Kremlin fellow travelers to focus on whatever is possible to hasten the defeat of Putin, end his genocidal atrocities, preserve world order – and send a warning to the other despots.