Moscow has blamed “external interference” for provoking unrest that closed an airport in Russia’s Muslim-majority Republic of Dagestan, warning that it will not tolerate efforts to “split Russian society”.
The Kremlin said on Monday that Ukraine, with which Russia is fighting a bitter war after invading last year, played a “key role” in fomenting an anti-Israel protest and subsequent violence at the airport. Russian officials have also inferred Western interference.
Hundreds stormed Dagestan’s main airport, ostensibly to protest against the arrival of a flight from Israel amid its war with Gaza, on Sunday.
The crowd broke past security, with some making it on to the Makhachkala airport runway before they were removed by security forces. Twenty people were injured in the melee, including nine police officers, according to Russia’s interior ministry. Police have since arrested 60 “active participants in the unrest”.
Russia’s foreign ministry on Monday accused Kyiv of helping to orchestrate the airport turmoil.
“The criminal Kyiv regime played a direct and key role in carrying out the latest destructive act,” Russia’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement.
Dagestan’s governor Sergei Melikov specifically blamed an influential social media channel he said was run by “traitors” working from Ukraine for fuelling the unrest.
Melikov said the riots were instigated by posts on the social media platform Telegram from the channel Utro Dagestan.
The channel, which has about 60,000 followers, had called for a mass gathering at the airport to stop “undesirable” passengers from entering on a scheduled flight from Israel.
Moscow also accused unnamed foreign actors of inciting the turmoil, saying they had used images of human suffering in Gaza to drum up tensions.
“Yesterday’s events at Makhachkala airport are, to a large extent, the result of external interference,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
President Vladimir Putin will meet with Russia’s defence minister and spy chiefs to discuss “the West’s attempts to use the events in the Middle East to split Russian society,” Peskov said.
An angry crowd emerged at Makhachkala airport Sunday evening after word got out that a Russian Red Wings airline flight from Israel was landing, according to local news reports.
Social media videos of the protest showed a crowd breaking down glass doors and running through the airport, with some chanting anti-Jewish slogans. On the landing field, some were seen waving Palestinian flags and others checking the passports of arriving passengers.
Several local Telegram channels also showed photos and videos of dozens of people waiting outside the airport seemingly to stop cars. Another group was seen trying to topple a patrol truck. One protester could be seen in the videos holding a sign reading: “Child killers have no place in Dagestan.”
The Israeli passengers were isolated and guarded, according to Israeli media outlets citing Israeli security officials.
Russia’s government warned protesters through Telegram “not to continue illegal acts and not to interfere with the work of airport employees”.
Dagestan’s Supreme Mufti Sheikh Akhmad Afandi told residents that although he understands their “indignation”, the issue cannot be resolved this way. He asked residents to not rally but exert “maximum patience and calm”, in a video shared to Telegram.
The incident comes as Israel expands its ground incursion inside the Gaza Strip, even as heavy aerial bombardment continues. Officials in Gaza say more than 8,000 Palestinians, including 3,324 children, have been killed since the war began on October 7, when Hamas, the group running the besieged enclave launched a surprise attack inside Israel. That attack killed at least 1,400 Israelis and foreign nationals, according to Israeli officials.
In a statement released on Sunday night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said that Israel “expects the Russian law enforcement authorities to protect the safety of all Israeli citizens and Jews wherever they may be and to act resolutely against the rioters and against the wild incitement directed against Jews and Israelis”.
Earlier on Sunday, the RIA Novosti news agency reported that a Jewish centre in the city of Nalchik, in the nearby republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, had been set on fire.