While the world continues to watch Russian troops mass and maneuver along Ukraine’s vast borders, an esoteric group of investigative journalists and military experts are focusing on an ominous “Z” that has started appearing on military hardware heading towards Ukraine.
Video posted on social media has shown hundreds more tanks, communications vehicles and rocket launchers bearing down on the border. Many of those captured on camera have been painted with a “Z” inside a large white square.
Bellingcat reporter Aric Toler, says his group has been monitoring Russian military symbols for the last eight years, but they have “no idea what they [the Zs] are” and haven’t seen them before. “So, assume the worst, I guess/fear,” he wrote on Twitter.
Re: the "Zorro Squad", or all the Russian military vehicles that (starting today) have Latin Z's painted on their sides. Ruslan has been monitoring this stuff nonstop for 8 years and has no idea what they are, and hasn't seen it before. So, assume the worst, I guess/fear. https://t.co/PsiWQLjjDX
— Aric Toler (@AricToler) February 20, 2022
Some, like Russian defense policy guru Rob Lee, whose social media followers have grown exponentially thanks to his keen dissemination of what’s going on, believes the symbol may refer to contingents assigned to Ukraine regions. “It appears Russian forces near the border are painting markers, in this case “Z”, on vehicles to identify different task forces or echelons,” he tweeted this weekend.
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) February 19, 2022
Others have speculated Russia is borrowing a play used in World War II by allies who used symbols to avoid friendly fire accidents since most Ukraine tanks are Soviet era and easily confused with Russia’s fleet. There is also speculation that the “Z” could stand for Russian enemy no. 1: Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky, who has vowed he won’t be drawn into action by the saber rattling around his country.
To further confuse matters, “Z” is not a letter in Russia’s Cyrillic alphabet.
While the phenomenon of what some have dubbed the “Zorro Squad” is relatively new, the threat of a Russian invasion of the sovereign nation of Ukraine is starting to grow old. Late Saturday, a massive explosion blew up a Luhansk gas pipeline in eastern Ukraine in an incident the head of the company called “sabotage.”
After attending the Munich Security Conference, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Sunday that Europe was about to face its “biggest war since 1945,” claiming that Russian president Vladimir Putin’s plan “has already in some senses begun.”
“You’re looking at not just an invasion through the east, but coming down from the north, down from Belarus and actually encircling Kyiv,” Johnson told the BBC. “People need to understand the sheer cost in human life that could entail.”