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UKRAINE

German states outlaw display of Russia’s ‘Z’ war symbol

Authorities in Lower Saxony and Bavaria have banned the display of the 'Z' symbol that has become synonymous with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It is unclear if other German states will follow suit.

'Z' t-shirts are sold in Russian marketplaces. Two German states have banned the symbol.
'Z' t-shirts are sold in Russian marketplaces. Two German states have banned the symbol. (Photo by AFP)

Two German states on Saturday said they have outlawed public displays of the “Z” symbol used by the Russian army in their invasion of Ukraine.

Anyone who brandishes the symbol at demonstrations or paints it on cars or buildings in a show of support for Vladimir Putin’s war could risk up to three years in jail or a fine in Lower Saxony or Bavaria.

“It is incomprehensible to me how this symbol ‘Z’ could be used in our country to condone this crime,” said Lower Saxony’s interior minister Boris Pistorius.

“Z”, a letter that features in the Latin alphabet but not in Cyrillic, first appeared on military vehicles rolling towards Ukraine, possibly to distinguish them from Ukrainian forces and avoid friendly fire.

But the sign has since become ubiquitous on cars on the streets of Moscow, clothing and across social media profiles on the Russian internet — a trend the Russian authorities are eager to encourage.

In the German state of Lower Saxony too, there had been examples of such displays, said the state’s interior ministry.

Bavaria’s Justice Minister Georg Eisenreich noted that freedom of opinion is a “great asset” but it “ends where criminal law begins”.

“Sympathisers who use the symbol ‘Z’ of Russian forces in Bavaria must know that they may be liable to prosecution for approving criminal acts,” he said.

“We will not allow violations of international law to be condoned,” he said.

Germany’s federal prosecutor has opened a probe into suspected war crimes by Russian troops since the invasion of Ukraine.

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POLITICS

Scholz says Germany to become biggest NATO force in Europe

Germany's investments in defence in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine will transform it into the biggest contributor to NATO in Europe, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Tuesday.

Scholz says Germany to become biggest NATO force in Europe

Alongside the United States, Germany is “certainly making the largest contribution” to NATO, Scholz said in an interview with the ARD broadcaster.

Speaking at the close of a summit of leaders from the Group of Seven rich democracies, Scholz said Germany was in the process of creating “the largest conventional army within the NATO framework in Europe”.

Days after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Scholz announced a 100-billion-euro ($105-billion) fund to beef up Germany’s military defences and offset decades of chronic underfunding.

READ ALSO: Germany’s Bundestag approves €100 billion fund to beef up defences

He also promised to meet NATO’s target of spending two percent of GDP on defence, answering years of criticism from close allies that Berlin was failing to contribute enough to the alliance.

Russia’s invasion had led to a renewed conviction “that we should spend more money on defence”, Scholz said.

“We will spend an average of around 70 to 80 billion euros a year on defence over the next few years,” he said, meaning “Germany is the country that invests the most in this”.

Scholz’s announcement in February was seen as a major policy shift, upending Germany’s traditionally cautious approach to defence as a result of its post-war guilt.

Germany had steadily reduced the size of its army since the end of the Cold War from around 500,000 at the time of reunification in 1990 to just 200,000.

NATO allies are from Tuesday gathering in Madrid for a summit, where the United States is expected to announce new long-term military deployments across Europe.

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