Russian lawmakers propose adding 'Z,' 'V' to license plates - report

Since the Russian war in Ukraine began, both letters, especially Z, have become a de facto military symbol in the public sphere, both in Russia and abroad.

 Service members of pro-Russian troops are seen atop of an armoured vehicle with the symbols "Z" painted on its sides in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in Dokuchaievsk in the Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine March 25, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO)
Service members of pro-Russian troops are seen atop of an armoured vehicle with the symbols "Z" painted on its sides in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in Dokuchaievsk in the Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine March 25, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO)

A new proposal by members of the Russian legislature could see the Latin letters Z and V be added to the list of characters approved to be used on license plates, RIA reported Friday morning.

The proposal was made by the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) in a letter sent to traffic police head Yuri Chernikov, and would see it be added to the 12 currently-approved characters, according to RIA.

The LDPR requests Z and V be added in order to support the Russian army.

Russian license plates

Russia currently has its license plates consisting of a series, which are letters, and two series of numbers, one of which is the registration code and the other is the region code. Also included is RUS, which is the country code.

The series of letters is often broken up by the registration code.

 A Russian license plate (Illustrative). (credit: Wikimedia Commons) A Russian license plate (Illustrative). (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

However, not just any letter can be used in plate format. This is because the Russian language uses the Cyrillic alphabet, which while distinct from the Latin alphabet, still uses several characters that are either identical or incredibly similar to Latin letters. These types of letters are the only ones allowed to be used on Russian license plates in order for Russian cars to travel abroad. 

Currently, only 12 letters are allowed: A, B, E, K, M, H, O, P, C, T, Y and X. 

A hypothetical Russian license plate, for example, could be A188ABB82.

But if V and Z are added, then we could see something similar, with the LDPR giving the example of hypothetical license plate V076VZ777.

V and Z and the Russian war on Ukraine

Letters resembling V and Z do not exist in the Cyrillic alphabet. However, they have gained a very prominent role in Russia in recent months.

Both Z and V have been seen painted on Russian tanks and military vehicles during the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, something Russia refers to exclusively as a "special military operation." The actual purpose of these markings is unknown, though some theorized that it used for nothing more than to help units distinguish one another and avoid friendly fire. There is precedence for this, and similar practices have been used in other wars as well. 

However, since the war began, both letters, though especially Z, have become a de facto military symbol in the public sphere, both in Russia and abroad

 A participant carries a flag with the ''Z'' symbol in support of the Russian armed forces involved in a conflict in Ukraine, during the Immortal Regiment march on Victory Day, which marks the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, in Saint Petersburg, Russia May 9, 2022. (credit: ANTON VAGANOV/ REUTERS) A participant carries a flag with the ''Z'' symbol in support of the Russian armed forces involved in a conflict in Ukraine, during the Immortal Regiment march on Victory Day, which marks the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, in Saint Petersburg, Russia May 9, 2022. (credit: ANTON VAGANOV/ REUTERS)

Outside of Russia, it is widely seen as a symbol of Russian aggression, having been compared to the Nazi swastika and even being banned from public display in multiple countries. It was even the inspiration for an anti-Russian slur: "Zig."

Within Russia, though, the symbol has taken on a different meaning altogether. Supporters of the war, both in Russia and abroad, frequently tout the Z symbol. Many in the Russian political and military echelons have also embraced this, and some Russians have even tried to incorporate the Latin letter into their names.

Back in May, Moscow municipal lawmaker Yevgeny Stupin said, citing the Defense Ministry, that the letters Z and V have no official military meaning and are not official symbols of the army. However, he does note that they are "recognizable and positively accepted" by soldiers, Russian citizens and others, according to an RIA report.

Practicality

The use of military symbolism supporting an invasion of Ukraine aside, there is another reason why the LDPR is pushing to add new letters to license plates: They're running out.

Per the standards of GOST, which are international technical standards relating to certifications and standardizations, among other things, regional areas of Russia have a set limit of 1,726,272 possible combinations of letters and numbers for license plates.

This is actually a significant problem, though, because some regions have more cars than that. 

There have been solutions proposed in the past. For instance, why not make more regional codes in a single area? That could essentially add an additional digit to the license plate, adding significantly more possibilities. And indeed, this has already been done in some parts of Russia.

But it is a short-term solution. After all, there are only so many possible three-digit regional codes that can be used and based on the rules for license plate sizes and standardized layout, adding yet another digit at the end wouldn't fit.

But, as noted by RIA citing the LDPR letter, adding more characters is a better fix and can significantly improve how many license plate combinations are possible.