Photos taken last month and shared across social media purportedly show a U.S. Navy attaché assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow taking a selfie while raising a middle finger to a Russian “Z” symbol on a Moscow lamppost.
While the actual identity of the man flipping off the “Z” has not been confirmed, Some social media users speculated that he was a U.S. Naval attaché by the name of Dale Samuel.
The “Z” has come to serve as a major symbol of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. When the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February, hundreds of Russian tanks, armored vehicles and troop transports entered the country with a white “Z” painted on their tops and sides. It is not clear what the original meaning of the Russian “Z” symbol is and there is no such letter in the Russian Cyrillic alphabet.
The “Z” may have been a means for Russian forces to identify friends from foe, particularly as Ukrainian forces share a lot of Soviet-era vehicles in common with the Russian Federation. Back in Russia, away from the front lines, Russians appear to have begun putting up the “Z” symbol as a show of support for their government’s war in Ukraine.
The images of the suspected U.S. service member flipping off the symbol enraged Russian commentators.
During a June 23 panel discussion on the state-run Russia 1 television channel, Russian Duma lawmaker Aleksey Zhuravlyov said, “Let this bitch step out once again. We’re going to find him. Step out, ride out of the Embassy. I’ll personally explain to you, bastard, what country you’re in and how you’re supposed to treat these symbols. If I don’t manage to do this, then our activists will do that. Go for a ride, we’re waiting for you, bastard.”
Can you believe they would do that,” Zhuravlyov continued.
Russia 1 host Olga Skabeyeva interjected, saying, “This is not a threat, we are polite people; we’ll just meet you and explain things.”
“This is a direct threat from me,” Zhuravlyov interrupted. “A direct threat. And you, bastard, will know what country you’re in. You will find out.”
“I could spit on his [diplomatic] immunity. I understand that this might be illegal, is what he did legal? That right there, is that legal?” the Russian lawmaker asked.
“He should be in prison for insulting our army. Can he take a dump in the Red Square because of his immunity? No,” Zhuravlyov said.
Later in the segment, Skabeyeva said that “in the interest of diplomacy, we recommend for him to go home, since many people are concerned and cannot be held back.”
On June 21, the Russian Embassy in the United Kingdom tweeted, “Hope the #US Naval Attaché in Moscow is proud of his ‘very diplomatic’ behaviour. We heard @UnderSecStateP Victoria Nuland is giving out cookies as a reward.”
Navy Times reported the U.S. Navy directed questions about the alleged incident involving a Naval attaché to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, which subsequently directed questions to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).
“The Defense Intelligence Agency is looking into the matter and will refer credible allegations for appropriate action,” DIA spokeswoman Amanda Schuler-Zepp told Navy Times.