Decoding the ‘Z’ — the mysterious Russian military symbol that’s been co-opted by Russia’s nationalist movement


Decoding the ‘Z’ — the mysterious Russian military symbol that’s been co-opted by Russia’s nationalist movement

Cheryl Teh – March 7, 2022

A protester holds a "Z" sign banner, in reference to Russian tanks marked with the letter, during a rally organised by Serbian right-wing organisations in support of Russian attacks on Ukraine, in Belgrade March 4, 2022.
Around a thousand Serbian ultra nationalist supporters marched in Belgrade in support of the Russian attacks on Ukraine, some carrying banners with a white “Z.”Milos Miskov/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
  • A new emblem has surfaced in the Ukraine-Russia conflict: a “Z,” stylized in a thick brushstroke.
  • The “Z” was spotted on Russian tanks invading Ukraine and painted on the sides of military vehicles.
  • It may have started off as a Russian signal for victory, but has been appropriated as a symbol of the far-right.

A new symbol of Russia’s war against Ukraine has emerged — a white “Z” emblem, stylized in a thick brushstroke. It has found its way onto the signs and t-shirts of ultra-right, pro-Russian protesters, been painted on Russian tanks and military vehicles, and been worn as a show of support for Russia’s invasion.

In the past several weeks, the “Z” has gone from a military marking to a potent symbol of support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And there are signs that Russian nationalist groups have co-opted the mark as well.

The emblem was first spotted on Russian tanks in February
Service members of pro-Russian troops in uniforms without insignia are seen atop of a tank with the letter "Z" painted on its sides in the separatist-controlled settlement of Buhas (Bugas), as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, in the Donetsk region, Ukraine March 1, 2022.
The original meaning of the “Z” symbol is unclear and has not been confirmed by official sources.Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

The “Z” symbol was first spotted on February 22, emblazoned on Russian military vehicles rolling into Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Twitter commenters speculated that the “Z” symbols, which appeared on tanks framed by squares, triangles, and other painted shapes, could be a way to delineate infantries.

Kamil Galeev, a former Galina Starovoitova Fellow on Human Rights and Conflict Resolution at the policy think tank the Wilson Center, tweeted that some interpreted the “Z” as short for “za pobedy” — the Russian term for “victory.” Others have guessed the “Z” is short for “zapad” (or west) and is meant to designate west-bound infantry.

The meaning of the symbol has yet to be confirmed by Russian military sources.


Let’s discuss what’s happening in Russia. To put it simply, it’s going full fascist. Authorities launched a propaganda campaign to gain popular support for their invasion of Ukraine and they’re getting lots of it. You can see “Z” on these guys’ clothes. What does it mean?

“Z” is a letter that Russian Military are putting on their vehicles departing to Ukraine. Some interpret “Z” as “Za pobedy” (for victory). Others – as “Zapad” (West). Anyway, this symbol invented just a few days ago became a symbol of new Russian ideology and national identity
A symbol of Russian nationalism and a rallying cry in support of Putin
A tank with the symbol "Z" painted on its side is seen in the separatist-controlled village of Bugas during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the Donetsk region, Ukraine March 6, 2022
The “Z” symbol has appeared on the sides of Russian military vehicles in the country’s invasion of Ukraine.Alexander Ermochenko/ Reuters

Despite the letter “Z” not being in the Cyrillic Russian alphabet, the letter appears to have woven itself into the broader Russian wartime narrative.

Cars were spotted around Russia emblazoned with the “Z” logo, and businesses have also co-opted the symbol.

It found a lot of supporters. Many Russians are putting “Z” on their cars – that’s totally voluntary and to my best knowledge nobody’s forcing them
Business owners put “Z” – showing their support of invasion on their trucks. Here you see a funeral service fully endorsing Z message

On March 4, a crowd of pro-Russian far-right Serbian protesters marching in Belgrade waved signs decorated with the “Z.”

Similarly, a group of Russian nationalist protesters in Leningrad were filmed wearing hoodies emblazoned with a white “Z” along with the words “We don’t give up our own.” It is unclear when the video was taken, but it surfaced on social media in the first week of March.

The slogan echoed false Russian propagandist claims that the invasion is meant to “liberate” and “de-Nazify” Ukraine — an independently-governed democracy led by a Jewish president.

On Sunday, a Russian gymnast appeared at a medal ceremony with a “Z” taped to his uniform

Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak taped a “Z” symbol on the front of his uniform while accepting a medal at the gymnastics World Cup in Doha on Sunday. He came in third, behind Ukraine’s Illia Kovtun, who came in first.

The International Gymnastics Federation has called on the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation to investigate Kuliak’s actions.

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

Insider’s live blog of the Russian invasion is covering developments as they happen.

Author: John Hanno

Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Bogan High School. Worked in Alaska after the earthquake. Joined U.S. Army at 17. Sergeant, B Battery, 3rd Battalion, 84th Artillery, 7th Army. Member of 12 different unions, including 4 different locals of the I.B.E.W. Worked for fortune 50, 100 and 200 companies as an industrial electrician, electrical/electronic technician.