MAKHACHKALA (RUSSIA) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday (Oct 30) accused Ukraine and the West of instigating anti-Israel rioting at Dagestan’s Makhachkala airport the previous day, an accusation that the United States has called absurd.
Security forces have detained over 80 people since the incident, which saw rioters in the Muslim-majority region take over the runway on Sunday evening in an attempt to encircle a plane that had flown in from Israel.
“The events in Makhachkala last night were instigated through social networks, not least from Ukraine, by the hands of agents of Western special services,” Mr Putin said in a televised meeting.
Speaking to high-ranking members of his Security Council, Mr Putin said there had been “attempts” to destabilise Russian society and accused the US of sowing instability in the Middle East.
“Who is organising the deadly chaos and who benefits from it today, in my opinion, has already become obvious… It is the current ruling elites of the US and their satellites who are the main beneficiaries of world instability,” Mr Putin said.
He added that Russian law enforcement needs to take “firm, timely and clear actions” in the wake of the riot in order to protect “inter-religious harmony”.
Moscow regularly blames domestic unrest on external — usually Western — forces.
Mr Putin’s comments come after Moscow’s foreign ministry accused Kyiv of playing a “direct role” in the Dagestan riot, an accusation that Washington called “absurd”.
“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,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Moscow has been waging an offensive in Ukraine for more than 20 months.
Kyiv swiftly rejected the accusations.
“The events in Makhachkala reflect the deep-rooted anti-Semitism of Russian elites and society,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said in a post on Facebook.
“I’ve seen their comments about blaming Ukraine. That is absurd,” US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters Monday.
“We call on Russian authorities to publicly condemn these violent protests, to hold anyone involved accountable and to ensure the safety of Israelis and Jews in Russia,” he said.
The mob descended onto Makhachkala airport late Sunday, barging through barriers and taking over the runway, in an attempt to encircle a plane that had flown in from Israel.
Authorities said 60 people had been arrested, suspected of violently storming the airport and seeking to attack Jews.
Russia’s Orthodox leader Patriarch Kirill condemned the violence as a bid to “sow discord” between Russia’s Jews and Muslims.
“I have no doubt that forces who provoked this incident will stop at nothing to cause disorder in our country,” the powerful cleric and Kremlin ally said.
The airport reopened Monday, but authorities reported some damage and an airline said its flights to Israel in the coming days were cancelled.
The same day of the airport riot, Russian state media reported that a Jewish centre in another North Caucasus region — Kabardino-Balkaria — was set on fire.
The mountainous North Caucasus has had a Jewish community for centuries.
The day after the riot, AFP saw a police car with several officers outside Makhachkala’s synagogue.
The violence prompted Israel to call on Russia to protect its citizens and Jews.
Outside a Moscow synagogue, people were shaken but unsurprised by the events, given rising global tensions over the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
“Political events should not set fire to our common home,” Ms Ariel Razbegayev, the 37-year-old director of the Moscow Choral Synagogue, told AFP.
Prominent figures in Dagestan have spoken in support of the Palestinians and against Israel since the Oct 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.
‘STAB IN THE BACK’
Hamas gunmen killed 1,400 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli officials, in the worst-ever attacks in the country’s history, with another 239 people taken hostage.
Israel has hit back with a relentless bombardment that has killed more than 8,300 people, more than half of them children, the Hamas-run health ministry says.
Rumours spread on Sunday that a Telegram channel owned by Mr Ilya Ponomarev — a former Russian lawmaker who now lives in Ukraine — was behind the protests.
Mr Ponomarev’s spokesperson has not responded to AFP requests for comment.
The governor of Dagestan, Mr Sergei Melikov, said the riots were instigated by social media posts from Utro Dagestan, run by “traitors” working from Ukraine.
He called the riot a “stab in the back” of Dagestani soldiers fighting in Ukraine.
According to independent reports, Dagestan has sent proportionately more men to fight in Ukraine than many ethnic Russian regions. AFP