Moscow on Monday accused Ukraine of staging a “provocation” after hundreds of rioters in Russia’s predominantly Muslim Dagestan region stormed an airport to “catch” Jewish passengers on board a flight from Tel Aviv.
By Andrew Osborn and Filipp Lebedev
MOSCOW on Monday accused Ukraine of staging a “provocation” after hundreds of rioters in Russia’s predominantly Muslim Dagestan region stormed an airport to “catch” Jewish passengers on board a flight from Tel Aviv.
Kyiv said it had nothing to do with the unrest, which left at least 20 people injured.
Videos obtained by Reuters from the airport at Makhachkala, the regional capital of Dagestan, showed the rioters, mostly young men, waving Palestinian flags, breaking down glass doors and running through the airport on Sunday evening shouting “Allahu Akbar” or “God is Greatest”.
One group was seen trying to overturn a police patrol truck, while another video showed rioters on the tarmac surrounding a Red Wings aircraft which had arrived from Tel Aviv.
One placard brandished by rioters in an unverified social media post said: “There is no place for child killers in Dagestan.”
Another said: “We are against Jewish refugees.”
The mob converged on the airport after a message on the Telegram messaging app urged Dagestanis to meet the “uninvited guests” in “adult fashion” and to get the plane and its passengers to turn around and fly somewhere else.
The message, posted on the “Utro Dagestan” Telegram channel, did not use the word “Jew” but referred to the plane’s passengers as being “unclean”.
“We need to wait for them on the street outside the airport and catch them before they go their separate ways,” the message said.
Police said they had arrested 60 people in connection with the unrest and identified 150 of the most active participants. The passengers on the plane were safe, security forces told Reuters.
Makhachkala airport resumed normal operations on Monday afternoon, Russia’s aviation authority said, but it said flights from Israel would temporarily be re-directed to other cities in Russia.
‘WESTERN ATTEMPT TO DIVIDE RUSSIA’
President Vladimir Putin will hold a meeting later on Monday to discuss how the West is trying to use the crisis in the Middle East to divide Russian society, said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
The unrest in the region, where Russian security forces once fought an Islamist insurgency, is a headache for Putin, who is waging a war in Ukraine and is keen to maintain stability at home ahead of an expected presidential election next year.
Peskov said the violence was the result of outside influence and that “ill-wishers” had used widely seen images of suffering in Gaza to stir people up.
“It is well known and obvious that yesterday’s events around Makhachkala airport are largely the result of outside interference, including information influence,” said Peskov.
Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, named Ukraine as the alleged culprit, saying in a statement that authorities in Kyiv had played a “direct and key role” in preparing the ground for what she called a “provocation”.
She referred to online resources linked to former Russian lawmaker Ilya Ponomaryov, who is based in Ukraine as a self-styled anti-Kremlin partisan.
Ponomaryov said on Monday that he used to be an investor in the Utro Dagestan Telegram channel but no longer had any connection to it.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters that Kyiv had “nothing to do” with the unrest.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Sunday blamed the events on what he called Russia’s “widespread culture of hatred toward other nations, which is propagated by state television, pundits, and authorities”.
The unrest followed several other anti-Semitic incidents in recent days in Russia’s North Caucasus region in response to Israel’s war against Hamas militants in Gaza.
Israel has urged Russian authorities to protect Israelis and Jews in their jurisdictions.
In the past few days, a Jewish centre under construction in Nalchik, the capital of the nearby Russian republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, was set on fire, emergency officials said.
Russia, which wants an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and backs a two-state solution, has tried to maintain contact with all sides in the Israel-Hamas conflict, but has angered Israeli authorities by inviting a Hamas delegation to Moscow. Israel’s foreign ministry summoned the Russian ambassador on Sunday.