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Why has Z become a symbol of Russian aggression and what does it mean?

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The Z symbol has been sweeping social media after first appearing as an identifier on Russian tanks.

But what does it mean and how has it become a mainstream propaganda symbol for the Kremlin – leading some commentators to describe it as “the new Swastika”.

What does Z mean?

The “Z”, a letter that does not exist in the Cyrillic Russian alphabet, was spotted being painted on Russian military vehicles weeks before the invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Some say the symbol was used to hype up support of the invasion from the Russian population.

Explaining the phenomenon on Twitter, Galina Starovoitova Fellow Kamil Galeev wrote: “Z is a letter that Russian Military are putting on their vehicles departing to Ukraine.

People watch as a military truck drives along a street in Armyansk

/ REUTERS

“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.”

Where has it been seen?

Russian forces have used the letter Z as an identifying symbol on their vehicles in Ukraine following Moscow’s invasion of its neighbour. It was also spotted on Russian tanks in the Syrian civil war.

Ordinary Russians have been painting the symbol on their billboards, bus stops, taxis, a funeral hearse and sketched onto walls in a seemingly voluntary show of support for the invasion.

Scores of black SUV vehicles flew flags with the Z symbol as they rode in convoy along a highway in support for Putin’s actions in their neighbouring country.

Athlete Ivan Kuliak finished third in the parallel bars final at the Apparatus World Cup in Doha over the weekend and displayed the letter “Z” on the front of his outfit as he stood on the podium next to Ukrainian rival Illia Kovtun, who won the gold.

A man walks past the symbol “Z” painted on a bus stop in support of the Russian armed forces, in Saint Petersburg

/ REUTERS

Russian soldiers have been reportedly using the badges gained after killing Ukrainian soldiers to form a Z in trophy photos.

Russian media and social media accounts who support the invasion sometimes add a Z in their names or logos.

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