Russia's 'Z' Symbol Means Nothing, and Everything

In the space of two weeks, the Z has evolved into Russia’s favorite nationalist insignia
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 8, 2022 6:34 PM CST
Russia's 'Z' Symbol Means Nothing, and Everything
A convoy of military trucks parked in a street in Mykolaivka, Donetsk region, the territory controlled by pro-Russian militants, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022.   (AP Photo)

The notorious white Z seen on Russian military vehicles in Ukraine has been a source of global speculation. As is sometimes the case when social media sleuths converge, most guesses proved to be overly complex and plain wrong. Per the BBC, citing a Russian special forces vet and pro-Kremlin newspapers, it’s quite simple: the Z is easy to see, thus reducing odds of friendly fire. Add a circle, square, or star around the Z and the symbol provides additional unit information so troops can stay organized.

Some observers have also noticed a V, which could mean "V for Victory," but according to a tweet by CrowdStrike founder Dmitri Alperovitch, it refers to the naval infantry. Citing "Ukrainian General Staff," he adds that Z is used by Russia’s Eastern Forces; |Z| is for Crimea; O for Belarus; X for Chechens; and A for Special Forces and FSB. Unlike the others, Z and V do not appear in the Russian Cyrillic alphabet. A scholar interviewed by the BBC notes that the Cyrillic Z looks like a 3 (lame), while "Z is a powerful, easily recognizable symbol.” Someone in Russia admires the Latin alphabet.

In the space of two weeks, the Z has evolved into Russia’s favorite nationalist insignia. The symbol is plastered on car windows, bus stops, billboards, and at least one gymnast. Per the BBC, "In the central Russian city of Kazan, about 60 children and staff at a hospice were photographed outside in the snow forming a giant Z in front of their building.” The symbol is also celebrated on Russian social media (what little remains of it, per NPR) and, of course, on state media whenever it gets the chance. Russian Parliament Member Maria Butina—the same one who once palled around with Wayne LaPierre and Donald Trump Jr., and served time in a US federal prison—was spotted in a video explaining how to wear the Z on a business jacket "so you can go into work and show it to everyone without shouting about it." (More Russia-Ukraine war stories.)

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