Entering the third week of fighting, the international community looks upon Russia and Ukraine and its respective allies in what is to be a potential change in the world order. From the various letters you’ve seen on Russian tanks and military vehicles, the most common one being “Z,” to individuals that have taken center stage around the world quite literally, the war has been full of symbols used for various reasons.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who was already famous in Ukraine due to his fame as a comedian, has been known as a heroic symbol of bravery around the world. On the other hand, Russia’s Putin had been touted as the 21st century’s new Hitler, drawing comparisons from deadly Nazi Germany. However, this is not where the comparisons stop.

The letter “Z” drawn on Russian tanks (and other vehicles) used to identify whether the vehicles are friendly or not, as well as to determine what point of origin they came from, are now nationalist, pro-war symbols in Russia. It is drawing comparisons to the Nazi Swastika, a logo still banned in Germany due to its horrid history.

What the “Z” symbol originally meant

If you had been watching videos or had viewed photos of the Russian forces advancing into Ukraine, you’ve probably seen those letters that are crudely painted on Russian tanks and military vehicles. SOFREP’s very own Sean Spoonts wrote about these letters last week and what they might mean. Before being a pro-war logo in Russia, the letters painted on Russian vehicles were used for the following:

  • Russian tanks, trucks, armored combat vehicles, and helicopters reportedly do not have radio-based combat ID systems, in marked contrast to the US military which employs them extensively. This shows how far behind the Russian forces have are with regard to their technology. Without these communication systems, they are left to visually identify which units are friendly to prevent friendly fire incidents. This is especially important as Russia and Ukraine both operate much of the same equipment.

So what do the letters mean?

  • Letter “X” means that the unit came from Ramzan Kadyrov’s Chechnya Region.
  • Letter “A” means they are part of the Russian Special Forces (SSO).
  • Letter “V” means the unit is from the Russian Marines.
  • Letter “O” means that the unit came from Belarus.
  • Letter “Z” represents units that are from the Eastern Military District.
  • Lastly, the letter “Z” with the square means that the unit came from the Southern Military District in Crimea.

There were also other interpretations of the Russian “Z,” such as the letter meaning “Za pobedy,” which means “for victory” in Russian, or “Zapad,” meaning “West,” as per a report by CNN. A far-flung interpretation of the “Z” would be “Zorro Squad” or maybe even “Zelensky.” However, we remain convinced that these letters are visual indicators describing their various parent commands, rather than gung-ho, motivational messages.

The “Z” letter as a symbol of Russian nationalist, pro-war pride

From a visual indicator of the location of origin, the Russians and those who are in favor of the war have now turned the letter “Z” symbol as a representation of Russian nationalist pride who support the Russian invasion — an eerily similar representation used by Nazi Germany during their years promoting the so-called Aryan race.