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What does the “Z” that Russia uses in the invasion of Ukraine stand for?

A new symbol of the war in Ukraine has emerged: a white “Z” emblem that has been smuggled onto posters and T-shirts of pro-Russian protesters, painted on invading military vehicles and tanks, and carried as a token support for the occupation.

In the last weeks, the “Z” has gone from being a military brand to a powerful symbol in favor of the military intervention of Russia in Ukraine. And there are signs that Russian nationalist groups have also co-opted the brand. On social media, however, Comparisons of this symbol with the Nazi swastika are growing.

The “Z” –along with a series of letters and geometric figures– first seen on February 22two days before the start of the invasion, stamped on Russian military vehicles entering the Donetsk region of Ukraine.

What does it mean?

The most immediate answer about the mysterious letters and geometric figures painted on the bodywork of military vehicles and in which several experts agreed is that of avoid friendly firedue to the fact that Ukraine and Russia share models of combat cars of Soviet heritage.

“It is vital that any attacking force can be distinguished, particularly from the air, where Russian forces will be in full control. The Ukrainians have very similar tanks and vehicles and will want to reduce the risk of friendly fire.”revealed a source in Kiev to the British tabloid The Sun.

They could also be related to geographic locations where units are stationed (Zapad means west). “Often these symbols are location-based – they indicate where the unit is going,” he said. michael clarkeformer director of thinktank defense RUSI to SkyNews. If military vehicles wanted to indicate their Russian origin, Clarke noted, all they would need was a letter or symbol.

“The fact that they are different tells you more: They are probably signals that tell which units are headed northeast or northwest of a district, for example,” Clarke explained. These marks with secret symbology are very common in military interventions. For example, the US Army used chevrons to designate the different battalions in the Iraq War in 2011.

Another explanation is related to the functions within the Russian Army. “Most of the Z marks seen so far were inside a square, but a truck in Ural with an Msta-B howitzer has one inside a triangle,” he posted on Twitter. Rob Lee, doctoral student and observer of Russia’s defense policy. It is important to highlight that the letter “Z” does not exist in the Russian Cyrillic alphabet.

“Possibly, you are indicating different work groups within a formation”he explained. These types of marks are only useful a few days before or after carrying out a military operation because they could later be used by Ukraine to learn more about Russia’s plans to advance in the country.

Kamil Galeyeva Woodrow Wilson Center fellow, tweeted that some they interpreted the “Z” as short for “za pobedy,” the Russian term for “victory.”

a symbol of war

But, beyond its tactical meaning, the lyrics seem to have been woven into the broader narrative of the Russian war and have served as a means for the Kremlin to launch a strong pro-invasion propaganda campaign. have been seen cars and delivery vans all over Russia with the Z logo, and even children from a hospice have formed a human Z.

On March 4, a crowd of far-right pro-Russian Serb protesters marching in Belgrade waved banners decorated with Z.

Likewise, a group of Russian nationalist protesters in Leningrad were filmed wearing black sweatshirts with a white “Z” emblazoned on their chest along with the words: “We do not give up what is ours”. It is not clear when the video was recorded, but it appeared on social media in the first week of March.

Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak surprised the planet with the “Z” symbol on his chest. The 20-year-old came third in the uneven bars discipline of the Artistic Gymnastics World Cup series he performs in Doha where he improvised the lyrics on his outfit on the podium. He too did not greet and ignore the winner, who coincidentally is Ukrainian, Illia Kovtun. The International Gymnastics Federation has asked the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation to investigate Kuliak’s actions.

Pro-Putin figures also donned the symbol. Maria Butina convicted Russian spy and current member of the Russian State Duma, was seen on video taking off her jacket and drawing a “Z” on her lapel.

“Denazify” Ukraine

The slogan echoed the false Russian propaganda claims that the invasion is intended to “liberate” and “denazify” Ukrainean independently governed democracy led by a Jewish president.

“I have made the decision to carry out a special military operation. Its objective will be to defend the people who for eight years have suffered persecution and genocide by the Kiev regime. For this, we will aim at the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine”said the Russian president, Vladimir Putinin his televised speech in the early hours of Thursday, February 24, announcing that he would initiate a “special military operation” against Ukraine.

“World War II remains an important part of Russian culture and politics, and the false claim that the current Ukrainian government is like the Nazi-allied government of Ukraine in World War II or the Ukrainian Liberation Army (the group that fought alongside the Nazis) is an attempt to shape Russian opinion”, he told BBCNews Adam Caseya political scientist specializing in Russia at the University of Michigan.

But despite the Kremlin’s efforts to link the Ukrainian government to Nazism, In social networks, the pro-Russian “Z” is increasingly equated with the Nazi swastika. “Putin tries to create a new fascist empire,” one user tweeted.

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