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Russia blames Ukraine for Dagestan riot targetting Israelis

October 30, 2023

Hundreds of protesters stormed an airport in Russia's Muslim-majority Dagestan, seeking to attack Jewish passengers arriving from Israel. Ukraine has rejected accusations from Moscow that it orchestrated the unrest.

A crowd walks at an airfield of the airport in Makhachkala
A mob at Makhachkala airport stormed onto the tarmac shouting antisemitic slogansImage: AP/picture alliance

Russia on Monday accused Ukraine of fomenting an anti-Israel riot that broke out at an airport in the southwestern region of Dagestan.

"The criminal Kyiv regime played a direct and key role in carrying out the latest destructive act," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in a statement. 

Hundreds of rioters, most of them young men, broke through barriers at the Makhachkala airport late on Sunday, looking for Jewish passengers arriving on a flight from the Israeli city of Tel Aviv. Video footage showed many charging onto the runway, waving Palestinian flags and shouting "Allahu Akbar" or "God is Greatest." Some of the group tried to overturn a police car.

At least 20 people were injured in the unrest. Russian police said they arrested 60 people. 

Dagestan: Hundreds storm airport looking for Israelis

Ukraine rejects Moscow's claims

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak dismissed Russia's allegations, telling the Reuters news agency that Kyiv had no role in the riots.

"Of course, Ukraine has nothing to do with the latest large-scale surge of xenophobic sentiments on the territory of the Russian Federation," Podolyak said.

Earlier Monday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told a press conference that the events at the airport were the "result of external interference."

"Against the backdrop of TV footage showing the horrors of what is happening in the Gaza Strip — the deaths of people, children, old people, it is very easy for enemies to take advantage of and provoke the situation," Peskov said. It is not unusual for the Kremlin to blame domestic unrest in Russia on outside forces, including Western countries.

Zakharova specifically pointed at Kremlin critic Ilya Ponomarev, a former Russian lawmaker who resides in Ukraine. 

Ponomarev previously provided financial support to a Telegram channel that on Sunday had called for the protests at Makhachkala airport to confront the arrival of "undesirable" passengers. The channel has about 60,000 followers.

Ponomaryov said on Monday that, though he used to be an investor in the channel, he no longer has any connection to it.

A crowd gathered outside of the Makhachkala Airport
Telegram channels called on protesters to meet a flight arriving from Tel AvivImage: Ramazan Rashidov/TASS/dpa/picture alliance

Riots condemned by Germany, Israel, US

Following the violence in Dagestan, Israel called on Russian authorities to protect Israelis and Jews in their jurisdictions. The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Israeli ambassador to Russia was working with Moscow to keep Israelis safe.

The United States condemned the "antisemitic protests," while Germany decried the events at the airport as "unspeakable and unacceptable."

"What is important now is that those responsible are held accountable and that the Russian authorities guarantee the safety of the Jewish community," a spokesperson for the German Foreign Ministry said.

"We resolutely fight every form of antisemitism and we stand by the Jewish community," the spokesperson added.

The multiethnic Muslim-majority Dagestan autonomous republic lies in Russia's North Caucasus region.

The unrest on Sunday followed a number of other antisemitic incidents as the war between Israel and Hamas militants rages on in Gaza.

Over the weekend, a Jewish center under construction in the city of Nalchik in another North Caucasus republic, Kabardino-Balkaria, was set on fire, emergency officials said.

UN General Assembly calls for humanitarian truce in Gaza

nm/dj (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)