The mystery of the vanishing Z
Russia's symbol for the SMO has disappeared in Russia
There are no Zs in Moscow. You won’t find them in St. Petersburg, either.
A friend in Ufa reports a conspicuous lack of Zs in Bashkiria’s capital. An old acquaintance who resides in Tatarstan tells me his town is Z-less.
If you drive for two hours across Novgorod Oblast you won’t pass a single Z-bedecked billboard.
I’ve spent 3 months looking for Zs in Russia and today I am ready to report my findings: It’s easier to dig up a truffle than sniff out a Z in this country. And you probably can’t train hogs to geolocate Zs.
Yes, there’s an occasional bumper sticker, and if you wander the halls of municipal buildings and government offices you might find a Z pinned to a long-neglected announcement board. But for whatever reason, Russia has been scrubbed of nearly all Z-flair.
Even recruitment posters for contract service in the Russian military (I’ve seen them in every city, town, and village I’ve visited over the past 90 days) are conspicuously Z-less.
The conflict in Ukraine will enter its third year in February 2024 and Russia will hold a presidential election a month later. But you could go a week in Russia without encountering the Latin-script letter selected by Moscow to represent Russia’s Special Military Operation.
I suspect this means something; exactly what we may never know.
But I have a few anecdotes to share with you that might help us unravel this riddle.
There’s a small town of 2,500 people located about 30 km from my village manor. According to a local, of the 17 mobilized men from this town, 2 were killed and 1 went missing. Three are still fighting in Ukraine. The rest are wounded.
The 51-year-old taxi driver who drove me 30km from aforementioned small town to my even smaller village disclosed to me that his application to join Wagner had been rejected because he had diabetes. He said the Russian army was plagued by incompetence, grift, and treachery.
My village neighbor recently revealed to me that he had a 65-year-old friend (and veteran of the War in Afghanistan, Soviet Union Edition) who was fighting on a MoD contract in Ukraine. This gentleman of advanced years periodically calls my neighbor to talk about the situation in the Northern Military District—mostly about the lack of ammo, leadership, and goals.
When pressing my relatives, friends, acquaintances, and on one occasion a total stranger, about their thoughts on the conflict in Ukraine, there were several reoccurring comments:
“I initially supported the SMO but now I don’t understand what it is accomplishing.”
“Shoigu is a rat.” (paraphrase)
“Wagner is (was?) Russia’s most professional and competent fighting force; Prigozhin was (is?) popular.”
“I don’t care about elections.” (When asked if they thought that the war’s incomplete status would affect the election)
There’s a Z made of wood on my neighbor’s banya door. But it predates the SMO by several years and represents structural integrity instead of a Not-War that nobody in Russia understands or wants to be reminded of.