Europe

Dozens Arrested in Dagestan After Mob Storms Plane Arriving From Israel

The authorities in the southern Russian republic of Dagestan moved to restore order early Monday morning after hundreds of young men tried to storm the local airport to protest the arrival of a commercial flight from Tel Aviv.

At least 20 people were injured in the riot on Sunday, and dozens of people were arrested. The government in the predominantly Muslim republic said that the outburst had been calmed and vowed to prevent further clashes. Russian aviation authorities said that the airport, in Makhachkala, the republic’s capital, would reopen on Tuesday.

But the riot shocked Jews in Russia and beyond and highlighted the challenges that the Kremlin faces in managing the various parts of its vast multiethnic and multireligious country.

It also underscored how the Kremlin’s decision to distance itself from Israel and from Israel’s mission to drive out Hamas terrorists can cause instability at home.

President Vladimir V. Putin has listed interethnic and interreligious accord in Russia as a main policy priority. Anti-Israel and antisemitic protests in the region that includes Dagestan, North Caucasus, where Mr. Putin fought his first war as Russian leader, could jeopardize that at a time when the Kremlin is also waging a long and bloody war in Ukraine.

The Dagestan government blamed pro-Ukrainian conspirators for the clashes at the airport, saying that they had inflamed the public to fuel unrest in Russia.

The Israeli government said in a statement that it expected the Russian authorities to protect all Israeli citizens and Jews and to act firmly against the rioters, describing the clashes as “wild incitement directed at Jews and Israelis.”

It was not immediately clear exactly what had taken place at the airport as unverified videos of the chaotic scenes spread across social media. Some people in the videos held Palestinian flags and carried signs opposing the war in Gaza, and some chanted “God is great” in Arabic.

In one video verified by The New York Times, a group of dozens of men, some carrying Palestinian flags, swarms a parked airplane from the carrier Red Wings. “There are no passengers here anymore,” a man in a yellow safety vest tells the rioters, pointing at the plane. He adds, “I am Muslim.”

In another video verified by The Times, filmed from inside an airplane on the tarmac, a crew member can be heard announcing: “Please stay seated and don’t try to open the plane’s door. There is an angry mob outside.”

The regional police said in a statement that they had identified 150 people as having actively taken part in the riot and that 60 had been arrested. Nine police officers were injured in the clashes, two of whom were hospitalized, according to the statement.

Dagestan’s health ministry said that 20 people in total had been injured, including police officers and civilians. Ten people were hospitalized, two of whom were in grave condition, it added. The police said that local investigators had opened a criminal investigation and vowed that everyone who had participated would be held responsible.

The Russian aviation authorities said on Sunday that the airport had been “cleared of unauthorized entry by citizens.” The government of Dagestan said the situation was “under control.”

Sergei Melikov, the head of Dagestan, condemned the rioters, saying, “There was no honor in swearing at strangers, reaching into their pockets and trying to check their passport,” referring to reports that some protesters had asked passers-by at the airport to prove their nationality.

There were also reports of other anti-Israel protests across the North Caucasus, a combustible region in the Russian south. On Saturday, dozens of people gathered in front of a hotel in the town of Khasavyurt, in Dagestan, after reports on social media claimed that it was “full of Jews.” About 200 people also gathered in the central square of Cherkessk, capital of the Karachay-Cherkessia republic, to protest the potential arrival of Israeli refugees, local news media reported.

The local authorities in Dagestan blamed “extremist” outlets administered by “Russian enemies” for inciting the unrest. Some of the protests were supported by a Telegram channel linked to a former Russian lawmaker, Ilya Ponomaryov, who had fled to Ukraine and has become a staunchly anti-Kremlin politician. Plans to “catch” the passengers of the incoming flight were shared in the Telegram channel, along with screenshots of the flight schedule, on Saturday and Sunday. Local religious figures in the North Caucasus have condemned the protests.

Russia has gone to extraordinary lengths to crack down on protests over its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, which it falsely claimed was being fought to rid the country of “Nazis.”

Ukrainian officials were quick to seize on the events in Russia as reflecting a deeper culture of hatred that the Kremlin had fomented for years.

“For Russian propaganda talking heads on official television, hate rhetoric is routine,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said in a statement, noting the “appalling videos” coming out of Dagestan. “Hatred is what drives aggression and terror. We must all work together to oppose hatred.”

Aric Toler contributed reporting.

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