Russia's "Z" campaign drums up support for 'operation' in Ukraine

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March 9 (Reuters) - It's popped up on bus stops, road signs and even a pram in Russia: a "Z" sign to whip up support for what Moscow describes as its "special military operation" in Ukraine.

The campaign takes as its motifs the distinctive "Z" and "V" markings that Russia displayed in white on the flanks and noses of tanks and armoured vehicles that invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

The letters - as well as a long diagonal stripe - were assumed to be markers for Russia's army to identify its different force contingents, though that has not been confirmed.

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Two weeks into the invasion, Russia's defence ministry is promoting the symbols and on Wednesday published a promotional video called "Z Heroes", using the "V" and "Z" to spell out the words for bravery, heroism and strength in truth.

T-shirts with a "Z" logo are for sale in online shops and on state television station RT's website. A "Z" sign was seen on the front of a pram in the far east Amur region, local media said. The coal-mining region of Kuzbass is now spelling its name with a Latin Z instead of the Russian character.

SUPPORTING ARMED FORCES

In the northern Arkhangelsk region, the local legislature beamed a "Z" sign on the side of its building after night fell by turning some of the lights on.

"Any kind of undertaking - in this case a good, correct one - has its symbols. Now those letters are Z and V," an official tasked with youth affairs and patriotic education in Arkhangelsk region told Russia's 29.Ru outlet.

He said the Z stood for "For Victory" and "For Unity", while "V" was the traditional symbol for victory.

"It symbolises support for our armed forces, support for the president's decisions and it is meant to unite us in this difficult situation," the official, Ivan Zhernakov, was quoted as saying.

The extent of the "Z" campaign's popularity and the scale of public support for Russia's war in Ukraine are hard to gauge, though President Vladimir Putin's ratings are clearly high.

State pollster VTsIOM said on Feb. 28 that almost 70% of people suppported the "special military operation" in Ukraine, the term that Russian officials use to describe the offensive.

Almost 14,000 people have been detained at anti-war protests in Russia since Feb. 24 and Russia's communications watchdog has blocked an array of independent media outlets.

Ukraine's Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov described the Z marking on Twitter as Nazi insignia.

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Reporting by Reuters Editing by Gareth Jones

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