Digital investigators have speculated about what the letter “Z”, written in the Roman alphabet instead of Cyrillic, might indicate about Moscow’s next moves.
Military experts interpreted the letter “Z” as “Za Pobedy” meaning “victory” or “Zapad” meaning “west”. Some of the dubbed vehicles were painted with the symbol “Zorro Squad”, while others suggested that the letter “Z” might represent the Kremlin’s “Target Number One”, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
But in the days after Moscow launched a bloody attack on Ukraine, what started as a shadowy military symbol has become a sign of popular support for the war in Russia, and what analysts describe as the spread of a new, chilling nationalist movement.
Russians have painted the letter “Z” on their cars, black hoods emblazoned with the symbol, and handmade “Z” pins on the lapel – a sign of some popular support for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his efforts to expand Moscow’s circle of influence through Seize parts of Ukraine.
“The authorities launched a propaganda campaign to gain popular support for their invasion of Ukraine and they got a lot of it,” Kamil Galif, an independent researcher and former fellow at the Wilson Center, a nonpartisan political think tank in Washington, DC, wrote in an exhaustive Twitter thread about the use of the symbol. “Z” in propaganda videos and by Russians on social media.
“This symbol, invented a few days ago, has become a symbol of the new Russian ideology and national identity,” Galev added.
As the Kremlin tightens its grip on any news of Russian casualties or setbacks on the way home — with an unusual new law making the dissemination of “false” information a prison offense — Putin’s supporters are ramping up their support for the war.
In a nursing home in Kazan, a city in the southwestern Russian region of Tatarstan, children dying of cancer were asked to stand in Z-shaped rows outside on the ice to show their support for the Russian military operation.
Vavilov was referring to the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic, two separatist-held regions in eastern Ukraine that Putin recognized last month as independent states as part of a pretext to invade the country.
The symbol “Z” also appeared among members of the State Duma of the Russian lower house.
Maria Butina was convicted of acting as an unregistered foreign agent in the United States for attempting to infiltrate prominent conservative political circles before and after the 2016 elections. Now she represents the Kirov region of the pro-Putin United Russia party, and she supported the war in posts on her Telegram channel.
“Keep on working, brothers,” she said in the video, clenching her fist. “We are with you forever.”
Reporters brought from Ukraine for the state-owned Russian news network Rossiya-24 wore the letter “Z” on their flak jackets.
And in two brilliantly produced propaganda videos circulating on social media, Russian guys Wearing black T-shirts and hoodies emblazoned with the letter “Z” and the hashtag #СвоихНеБросаем, or “We’re not giving up on our men,” they wave Russian flags and express their support for Putin’s war, chanting: “For Russia for the president and for Russia for Putin!”
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