Russian tanks emblazoned with the “Z” have been spotted on the Ukrainian border for the first time. This is how the letter became a pro-war symbol

Digital sleuths have speculated what the “Z”, written in the Roman alphabet rather than Cyrillic, might indicate about Moscow’s next moves.

Military experts have interpreted the “Z” as “Za pobedy”, Russian for “for victory”, or as “Zapad”, for “West”. Some dubbed vehicles painted with the “Zorro Squad” symbol, while others have suggested the “Z” may represent the Kremlin’s self-proclaimed “target number one”. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Aric Toler, a researcher at Bellingcat, an open-source investigative operation that has been monitoring Russian military operations since Moscow fomented a war in eastern Ukraine eight years ago, said on February 20 that the group n had no idea what the “Z” symbol meant and had never seen it used before. “So assume the worst, I guess/fear,” he said. wrote on Twitter.
Russian defense policy expert Rob Lee, who has tracked ‘Z’ vehicles since troops began massing on Ukraine’s doorstep, suggested the symbol could refer to military contingents assigned to combat in the country. “It appears that Russian forces near the border are painting markers, in this case ‘Z’, on vehicles to identify different task forces or echelons,” Lee, a doctoral student in the department of war studies at King’s College in London., tweeted February 19.

But since Moscow ordered the bloody assault on Ukraine, what started as a mysterious military symbol has become a sign of popular support for war in Russia, and what analysts describe as the deployment of a new scary nationalist movement.

Russians have daubed the “Z” on their cars, sported black hoodies emblazoned with the symbol and fashioned makeshift “Z” pins on lapels – a sign that there is some popular support for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his efforts to expand Moscow’s sphere of influence by seizing parts of Ukraine.

“The authorities have launched a propaganda campaign to gain popular support for their invasion of Ukraine and they are getting a lot of it,” said Kamil Galeev, an independent researcher and former member of the Wilson Center, a nonpartisan political think tank at Washington, DC. , wrote in an extensive Twitter thread about the use of the “Z” symbol in propaganda videos and by Russians on social media.

“This symbol invented just a few days ago has become a symbol of the new Russian ideology and national identity,” Galeev added.

As the Kremlin tightens its grip on any news of Russian casualties or Russian setbacks – enforcing an extraordinary new law that makes spreading “false” information a crime punishable by jail time – Putin’s supporters are beefing up their support for the war.

At a hospice in Kazan, a city in Russia’s southwestern Tatarstan region, children dying of cancer were asked to line up in a “Z” line outside in the snow to show their support for the Russian military operation.

“Our patients and the whole team took part, about 60 people in total. People lined up in the shape of the letter ‘Z’,” said Vladimir Vavilov, president of a cancer charity that runs the hospice, in a press release. “In our left hand we held leaflets with the flags of the LPR, DPR, Russia and Tatarstan and we clenched our right fist.”

Vavilov was referring to the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic, breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine that Putin last month recognized as independent states as part of a pretext to invade the country. .

Terminally ill children and hospice staff lined up to form a

The symbol “Z” has also made an appearance among members of the lower house of the Russian parliament, the Duma.

Maria Butina was convicted of serving as an unregistered foreign agent in the United States trying to infiltrate prominent conservative political circles before and after the 2016 elections. She now represents the Kirov region for the political party United Russia backing Putin and backed the war in messages on his Telegram channel.

Butina took to the platform to share a clip of herself drawing a white “Z” on the lapel of her blazer, and updated her profile with a selfie in a black T-shirt with a white letter “Z” on it.

“Keep up the work, my brothers. We are with you. Forever,” she said in the music video, clenching her fist.

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Correspondents reporting from Ukraine for Russia’s Rossiya-24 news network sported the “Z” on body armor.

Pictures major cities across Russia shared captured convoys of cars over the weekend with white “Z”s taped to windows, honking horns and displaying huge Russian flags. At the Gymnastics World Cup in Doha, Qatar, Russian athlete Ivan Kuliak wore the badge on the medal podium alongside gold medalist Illia Kovtun of Ukraine.

And in two skillfully produced propaganda videos circulating on social media, young Russians wearing black T-shirts and hooded sweatshirts with the letter “Z” and the hashtag #СвоихНеБросаем, or “we don’t give up on ours (guys)”, wave Russian flags and express their support for the war of Putin, chanting: “For Russia, for the president. For Russia, for Putin!”


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