Why is letter Z written on Russian military equipment seen in Ukraine?

Must Read

Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

The Russian’ special operation’ is underway in Ukraine to demilitarize the country. The Russian tanks, armoured personnel carriers, and infantry fighting vehicles in Ukraine have unique markings, particularly the signs Z, V, triangle, and a circle or O. 

People have put forward various versions of the meaning of these symbols. The most prevalent version is that the letter Z stands for ‘Zelensky’, which is the last name of the Ukrainian President. 

In the Russian language, Z could mean Zara’s (West), or zadacha (Task), or zavershenie (completion) zvezda (star) in the given context.

Some Russians on social media write that the letter Z is being referred to as ‘west’. Some others associate Z as a symbol of the final stage of the liberation of Donbas. Russian media focused on the explanation ‘West’ and called the military actions’ Operation Z’. 

But later, other markings began emerging on the vehicles. So, the media suggested that the markings may indicate the composition of the crews and the type of military equipment. Some decided that the paint glowed in the dark so that the Russian military would not accidentally hit their own.

Russian military Vehicle with v marking
Russian military Vehicle with V marking

Ordinal numbers on special equipment are not new. During the military campaign in Chechnya, identification marks were usually painted over the vehicles to avoid revenge by the militants. Emblems are normally seen on the military equipment participating in parades. 

Ex Russian military personnel have suggested that the symbols are just a way of ‘identification’ in the current situation, so one should not look for secret meanings in it.

Russian Defence Ministry explains

The Instagram account of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation also interpreted these signs in their way. As per them, Z allegedly means “For the victory.”  V has two slogans: “The power is in truth” and “The task will be completed” (drawn as △ on vehicles). They did not explain ‘O’.

What do marks on Ukrainian buildings and roads mean?

Images on social media show some curious looking signs on the buildings and roads in the Ukrainian cities. Images have been hastily drawn in white or red paint. The law enforcement agencies of Ukraine claim that the Russian troops orient themselves in this manner. One explanation is that the markings are made to facilitate the advance at night. It is also speculated that these are places for the guidance of rocket launchers. The Ukrainian traffic police have asked all car owners who see such marks to contact law enforcement officers or destroy them themselves.

Russian markings on Ukrainian Buildings and Roads
Russian markings on Ukrainian Buildings and Roads

What identification marks are used by the Russian forces?

The military markings, as a rule, differ based on the type of units in which they serve. Each has its uniform and various distinctive signs in emblems, stripes, etc.

A round emblems indicates belonging to one or another type of unit. They depict the coat of arms of the Russian Federation on a coloured background. The background colour, in turn, depends on the type of force. The sailors, for example, have black, the airborne troops have blue, and the ground forces have red. The affiliation is also determined by the buttonholes, which are located on the collar of the military uniform. They differ depending on the rank of the soldier. Chevrons or V-shaped stripes are distinctive features of different units.

Cockades, in turn, are the same for all types of units. They differ only on the dress and everyday uniforms. The military personnel wear hats with gold cockades and typically olive ones for ceremonial events.

What identification marks are used by Ukrainian troops?

Since 2020, the Ukrainian army symbolism has undergone significant changes. They are trying to move away from the Soviet-era practises and the similarity of the symbology of the Russian military. Military personnel of the Armed Forces of Ukraine do not have stars on their shoulder straps but diamond-shaped badges with a coat of arms.

Also, each type of unit has updated its emblems. For example, the tankers have a golden glove with a mace, paratroopers have a winged parachute with a fire sword, and radio engineering units have crossed lightning bolts.

They also wear different hats. Marines now wear burgundy and turquoise berets. The missiles and artillery units wear red. The design of the cockade has also changed. Unlike the Russian military, Ukrainians wear different cockades depending on the type of service.

Why do militaries distinguish equipment and soldiers with identification marks?

Identification marks are applied to uniforms and equipment to determine the type of units and the soldier’s allegiance. For example, armed forces use Latin alphabets to identify military equipment.

As a rule, they use the initial letters of the name of a particular type of unit. Each army has its procedure for applying identification marks. At its core, this is a military ethic that combatants adhere to. Without appropriate signs, it brings confusion to civilians and the military themselves.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


More Articles Like This