How The Letter Z Became A ‘Pro-War Symbol’

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  • Military experts interpreted the “Z” as “Za pobedy,” Russian for “for victory,” or as “Zapad,” for “West.”
  • “So, assume the worst, I guess/fear,” he wrote on Twitter Russian defence policy expert Rob Lee, who has been tracking the “Z” vehicles since troops began massing on Ukraine’s doorstep, suggested the symbol might refer to military contingents assigned to the fight in the country. 
  • To put it simply, it’s going full fascist.

Videos and photographs surfacing on social media in late February, days before Russian soldiers started an all-out invasion of Ukraine, showed tanks, communications trucks, and rocket launchers emblazoned with the letter “Z” rolling toward the border as reported by CNN.

Investigation operation

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

Military experts interpreted the “Z” as “Za pobedy,” Russian for “for victory,” or as “Zapad,” for “West.”

Some dubbed vehicles painted with the symbol the “Zorro Squad,” while others suggested the “Z” might stand for the Kremlin’s self-styled “target number one,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Aric Toler, a researcher with 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 had no idea what the “Z” symbol meant and had not seen it used before. 

“So, assume the worst, I guess/fear,” he wrote on Twitter.

Mysterious military symbol

Russian defence policy expert Rob Lee, who has been tracking the “Z” vehicles since troops began massing on Ukraine’s doorstep, suggested the symbol might refer to military contingents assigned to the fight in the country. 

“It appears Russian forces near the border are painting markers, in this case, ‘Z’, on vehicles to identify different task forces or echelons,” Lee, a PhD student at King’s College London’s War Studies Department, tweeted on February 19.

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

Russians have daubed the “Z” on their cars, sported black hoodies emblazoned with the symbol, and fashioned makeshift “Z” brooches 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.

Invasion in Ukraine

“Authorities launched a propaganda campaign to gain popular support for their invasion of Ukraine and they’re getting lots of it,” Kamil Galeev, an independent researcher and former fellow at the Wilson Center, a non-partisan policy think tank in Washington, DC, wrote in a comprehensive Twitter thread on the use of the “Z” symbol in propaganda videos and by Russians on social media.

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

“Our patients and the entire team took part in it, about 60 people in total.

In our left hand, we held leaflets with the flags of the LPR, DPR, Russia and Tatarstan and we clenched our right hand into a fist.”

The “Z” symbol has also cropped up among members of Russia’s lower house of Parliament, the Duma.

Unregistered foreign agent

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 election.

“Forever,” she said in the video clip, clenching her fist.

Correspondents reporting from Ukraine for Russian state-owned news network Rossiya-24 have sported the “Z” on flak jackets.

At the Gymnastics World Cup in Doha, Qatar, Russian athlete Ivan Kuliak sported the insignia on the medals podium as he stood beside Ukraine’s Illia Kovtun, the gold medalist.

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

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Source: CNN

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