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Putin calls security meeting after mob storms Dagestan airport looking for Israelis on jet from Tel Aviv

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the security meeting will discuss ‘attempts by the West to use the events in the Middle East to divide the (Russian) society’

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council via video link at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia October 27, 2023.SPUTNIK (via REUTERS)

Russian President Vladimir Putin called a meeting of security and law enforcement officials Monday, the day after a mob stormed the airport in the southern region of Dagestan after a flight from Israel landed there.

Hundreds of angry men, some carrying banners with antisemitic slogans, rushed onto the tarmac of the airport in Makhachkala, the capital of the predominantly Muslim region, on Sunday night, looking for Israeli passengers on the flight from Tel Aviv, according to Russian news reports.

More than 20 people were injured, with two in critical condition, Dagestan’s Health Ministry said. The injured included police officers and civilians, it said. At least 60 people were detained in the unrest, the local Interior Ministry said. It was not clear if charges were filed against any of them, but Russia’s Investigative Committee said it opened a criminal probe on charges of organizing mass unrest.

Russia has issued carefully calibrated criticism of both sides in the war between Israel and Hamas, a conflict that is giving Moscow new opportunities to advance its role as a global power broker and challenge Western efforts to isolate it over Ukraine.

The Kremlin has also sought to “present Russia as a religiously tolerant country,” a recent report by the Institute of the Study of War said. Putin last week met with religious leaders and “lauded Russia a beacon of religious harmony,” the report said.

In the wake of the unrest, however, “the Kremlin will likely struggle to reassure constituencies that the situation is under control and convince Jewish audiences that Jewish minorities are safe in Russia,” the U.S.-based think tank said. It pointed to remarks by the spokesperson for Russia’s Chief Rabbinate in Dagestan, Ovadya Isakov, who said Sunday he isn’t sure if it’s worth evacuating several hundred Jewish families from Dagestan to elsewhere in the country, noting a history of pogroms and that “Russia is not salvation.”

The crowd that rushed onto the tarmac Sunday night surrounded the jet belonging to the Russian carrier Red Wings with seemingly little resistance from the police, Russian news outlets reported.

Video and photos on social media showed some in the crowd waving Palestinian flags, and some trying to overturn a police car. Others held handwritten banners saying, “Child killers are not welcome in Dagestan” and “We’re against Jewish refugees.”

There also were shouts of “Allahu akbar!” or “God is great.” Some in the crowd, which also was seen roaming the terminal, examined passports of arriving passengers, apparently in an attempt to identify those who were Israeli. The riot was later broken up.

The Makhachkala airport resumed operations at 2 p.m. Monday, Russia’s civil aviation authority Rosaviatsia said, adding that flights from Tel Aviv to Makhachkala and Mineralnye Vody, a city in the neighboring Stavropol region, will be redirected to other cities.

Russian carriers Red Wings and Azimut operate flights between Tel Aviv and the cities of Makhachkala, Mineralnye Vody and Sochi in southern Russia. All three cities are located about halfway between Tel Aviv and Moscow; Russian independent news site Mediazona quoted a passenger of the Tel Aviv-Makhachkala flight as saying that she was flying to Moscow and had a layover in Makhachkala, which was cheaper than a direct flight to the Russian capital.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the security meeting will discuss “attempts by the West to use the events in the Middle East to divide the (Russian) society.” “It is well known and obvious that yesterday’s event around the Makhachkala airport is largely the result of outside interference, including information influence from outside,” he told reporters at his daily news conference. He did not elaborate.

Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti cited Dagestan Gov. Sergei Melikov as saying that the unrest was coordinated in a Telegram channel run by “traitors” based in Ukraine, with the goal of destabilizing Dagestan and fueling unrest.

According to Mediazona, local Telegram channels had said before the unrest that “refugees from Israel” were coming to Dagestan. Following some of those posts, a crowd gathered outside a hotel in the Dagestani city of Khasavyurt on Saturday, searching for Israeli nationals staying in the hotel, but left after not finding any, it said.

One such channel was founded by former Russian lawmaker Ilya Ponomaryov, who currently lives in Ukraine and claims to be involved with a guerrilla movement inside Russia, Mediazona said. The Associated Press could not independently confirm the report. Ponomaryov has said he no longer has ties with the channel.

Following the Dagestan unrest, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said 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.”

Netanyahu’s office added that the Israeli ambassador to Russia was working with Russia to keep Israelis and Jews safe. While voicing support for Palestinians in Gaza, the regional Dagestani government appealed to citizens to remain calm and not take part in such protests. The Supreme Mufti of Dagestan, Sheikh Akhmad Afandi, also appealed for peace.

“We understand and perceive your indignation very painfully. ... We will solve this issue differently. Not with rallies, but appropriately. Maximum patience and calm for you,” he said in a video published to Telegram. Melikov said there would be consequences for anyone taking part in the violence and wrote on Telegram that the scene at the airport was “outrageous and should receive an appropriate assessment from law enforcement agencies!”

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