How “Z” became Putin’s new propaganda meme

The letter now indicates allegiance to the Russian president.

Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak caused dispute in March 2022 when he accepted a bronze medal at a World Cup event, all while sporting a taped-on letter “Z” on his uniform. The Z symbol had already been appearing all over Russia, as a sign of support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine and allegiance to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The letter popped up on products, in very coordinated flash mobs that regularly involved kids, at pro-war rallies, and in internet memes.

The symbol was initially spotted on Russian tanks and trucks building up at Ukraine’s boundary in late February, along with other letters like V and O. Questions about what the symbols intended got started circulating on-line, and once the invasion got started on February 24, most analysts agreed the markings were likely for tactical purposes.

But as intrigue around them grew, the Russian Defense Ministry seized on the chance to claim that the letters carry additional which means. They got started producing memes that incorporated the Z and V into propaganda slogans. Those letters do not emerge in Russia’s Cyrillic alphabet, so some of the memes Latinize them: most common are ones that commence with the word “for” — spelled “Зa” in Russian, but Latinized to “Za” for the memes.

A different way Putin’s regime has turned Z into a propaganda meme has been by linking it with the Soviet triumph over Nazi Germany in World War II. The “Great Patriotic War” maintains a crucial presence in Russian culture — the anniversary of Germany’s conquer is celebrated every year on May 9, and World War II imagery is heavily related with Russian patriotism and nationwide pride. Z memes that incorporate old photographs of Soviet troopers — and the recognizable orange and black stripes of the Ribbon of St. George — are an effort to equate the current war in Ukraine with World War II.

The Z has spread beyond Russia, too. It is now seen in pro-Russian demonstrations world-wide and is barred in a growing list of nations. The Z’s evolution from tactical markings on invasion cars to an international pro-war symbol showcases the effectiveness of the Putin regime’s propaganda methods.

We have changed the image to a graffitied “Z” in St. Petersburg instead.

“Z” Is the Symbol of the New Russian Politics of Aggression, by Masha Gessen:

‘Z’ How Russia transformed a letter of the Latin alphabet into the official (and ominous) symbol of its invasion of Ukraine, by Alexey Kovalev and Meduza:

Make sure you never miss behind the scenes content in the Vox Video newsletter, sign up here: is a news website that helps you cut through the noise and understand what’s really driving the events in the headlines. Check out

Support Vox’s reporting with a one-time or recurring contribution:

Shop the Vox merch store:


  1. It’s the west against the world right

  2. Can “For Shame” “Z стыд” become a thing then?

  3. I think I can help, Z stands for zvastika. See? Not that hard

  4. Z Russia ✌️✌️✌️❤️❤️❤️

  5. Good job Z forces.

  6. They are a “Z” nation alright; more like “Z Nation” (zombies).

  7. Anton Zavlaski a.k.a Zedd be like: 🥶🥶🥶

  8. this reminds me of all those n.koreans crying when kim jong-whichever died.

  9. xDmztry vsvedine

    Geez. Putin is just playing all the Russian people. Pulling their patriotic heartstrings in the wrong direction. I can’t believe they’re our neighbors and they let him walk all over them.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.