Sunday, March 20, 2022

Latin Script Letter ‘Z’ Now Symbolizes Putin Aggression Abroad and Repression at Home

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Mar. 15 – When future historians examine Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, one of the most curious things they will have to explain is why the Latin script letter “Z” became the symbol of his Russian world and how this happened to quickly and initially at least without clear direction from above.

            Some Russian investigators are already focusing on these questions (, and

            They suggest that “Z” emerged out of military terminology where it has been used to designate the West (Zapad) in exercises or provided a kind of cover for any Russian soldiers who might be captured. They could claim that they were involved in some “exercise” and not in an invasion.

            This ambiguity, emblematic of Putin’s “hybrid” approach to all things, has been working both for and against its spread. On the one hand, many Russians who display it tell journalists they have no idea what it means; and on the other, those who want to can invest in it all sorts of meanings, including some the powers that be don’t like.

With striking speed, “Z” beat out competitors like “V” for victory which has in the minds of Russia’s current leaders some unfortunate “liberal” associations from the 20th century and the even less meaningful to a broad audience “triangle.” Some suggest that “Z” gained this traction because of its association with Zorro in computer games.

Then, with the support of the defense ministry, Russia Today, and some in the Presidential Administration this letter, which like many Putinisms involving the current conflict was never defined, spread in a variety of directions, being used to assert a new Russian superiority over the West and as a warning to anyone who dissents from Putin’s militarism.

            Indeed, criticism of the use of “Z” has already resulted in serious fines; and dissenters have found that letter scrawled on their doorways, a not-so-subtle way of saying that “we know where you live” and we can come after you so be on notice.  And some critics have even likened it to the Nazi swastika.

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