PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin accused the West and Ukraine of stirring up unrest inside Russia after rioters in the predominantly Muslim Dagestan region stormed an airport to “catch” Jewish passengers on a flight from Tel Aviv.
The United States condemned the events, which a State Department spokesperson said had “looked like a pogrom.”
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters that Kyiv had “nothing to do” with the violence, while a senior Russian Rabbi said there had to be a harsh response against those who took part.
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 unrest in Dagestan, where Russian security forces once fought an Islamist insurgency, is a headache for Mr. Putin, who is waging a war in Ukraine and is keen to maintain stability at home ahead of an expected presidential election next year.
Mr. Putin accused the West and Ukraine of helping whip up the unrest via social media, part of what he said was Washington’s agenda of creating global chaos to ensure its continued dominance and prevent rivals like Russia from taking their place in a new multipolar world.
Speaking at a meeting with security chiefs Mr. Putin said shadowy US-backed forces were trying to destabilize and split Russia’s multi-ethnic and multi-confessional society.
“For this purpose, they use a variety of means, as we can see — lies, provocations and sophisticated technologies of psychological and information aggression.
“The events in Makhachkala last night were inspired also through social networks, not least from the territory of Ukraine, by the hands of agents of Western special services.”
Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, had earlier accused Ukraine of a “direct and key role” in preparing the “provocation”.
Ms. Zakharova referred to online resources linked to former Russian lawmaker Ilya Ponomaryov, who is based in Ukraine as a self-styled anti-Kremlin partisan. Mr. Ponomaryov said that he used to be an investor in a Telegram channel which had called on people to go to the airport but no longer had any connection to it.
The mob converged on the airport after the message on the channel, “Utro Dagestan”, 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 channel, which was later banned by Telegram, 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,” a message on the channel said.
Police said they had arrested 60 people in connection with the unrest.
Shmuel, 26, an Israeli citizen and one of the passengers, told Israeli publication Ynet that police had got passengers onto a bus which was chased around the airport by rioters.
“The bus kept turning around…and people were chasing it and throwing stones. I put my suitcase against the window,” he said.
At one point, he said the passengers had been questioned by locals about their religion.
“They came inside, went from person to person, and asked if they were a Muslim or a Jew. I said I was a Muslim, because I was scared to death. Fortunately, they believed me and continued on,” he said.
It was unclear in what circumstances that questioning took place with another passenger telling the Mediazona news website that a small group of locals had been shown the passengers’ documents in an airport building where the passengers were being held at the time.
Rabbi Alexander Boroda, the president of Russia’s Federation of Jewish Communities, called for a tough response.
In a statement, Mr. Boroda said that the riot had “undermined the basic foundations of our multi-cultural and multi-national state” and that anti-Israeli sentiment fuelled by events in the Middle East had become open aggression towards Russian Jews.
“Moreover, we see that local authorities were not prepared for such incidents and allowed large-scale violations of law and order and mass demonstrations with open threats to Jews and Israelis,” Mr. Boroda said.
“I call on the country’s leadership and law enforcement agencies to find and punish all the organisers and participants of these anti-Semitic actions in the strictest possible manner.”
Israel’s ambassador to Russia was cited by the RIA news agency as saying that no Israeli citizens had been hurt amid unconfirmed reports they had been taken to a military base before being flown out of the region.
Makhachkala airport resumed normal operations on Monday afternoon, Russia’s aviation authority said, but it announced that flights from Israel would temporarily be re-directed to other cities in Russia.
Israel raised its travel warning for Russia’s North Caucasus region, which includes Dagestan, to its highest level.
The unrest followed several other anti-Semitic incidents in recent days in the 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. — Reuters