On October 30, 2023, an incident unfolded at Makhachkala Airport in Dagestan, Russia, where hundreds of protesters stormed the airport premises targeting Jewish passengers arriving from Israel. The Russian government was quick to accuse Ukraine of having a direct hand in orchestrating the unrest. However, Ukraine vehemently denied any involvement in the incident, marking another tension point in the already strained Russia-Ukraine relations.
Background of Dagestan Airport Riot
The unrest at Makhachkala Airport emerged when a crowd, mostly young men, broke through airport barriers late on Sunday, looking for Jewish passengers arriving on a flight from Tel Aviv, Israel. The mob charged onto the runway, waving Palestinian flags and shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greatest). Some attempted to overturn a police car, and at least 20 people were injured in the riot. Russian authorities arrested 60 individuals following the chaos.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova accused Ukraine of playing a "direct and key role" in what she described as a destructive act. The accusations were directed specifically at the "criminal Kyiv regime," alleging that this was an attempt to undermine Russia's harmonic development and ethnic unity. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov supported this narrative, stating that the airport events were the result of external interference. Amid ongoing tensions in Gaza, Peskov mentioned that it was easy for enemies to take advantage of the situation and provoke discord within Russia.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak dismissed Russia's allegations outright, stating that Ukraine had no role in the riot. He emphasized that the surge of xenophobic sentiments on Russian territory had nothing to do with Ukraine, and accused Russia of attempting to deflect domestic issues onto external entities. This rejection of the accusations comes amidst a long history of strained relations between Russia and Ukraine, often exacerbated by political and territorial disputes.
The international community reacted strongly to the antisemitic nature of the Dagestan Airport riot. Israel urged Russian authorities to ensure the safety of Israelis and Jews within Russia, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office actively liaising with Moscow. The United States condemned the "antisemitic protests," and Germany labeled the events as "unspeakable and unacceptable," urging Russian authorities to hold the perpetrators accountable and ensure the safety of the Jewish community in Russia.
The Dagestan riot reflects a broader trend of antisemitic incidents, exacerbated by the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Over the weekend, a Jewish center under construction in Nalchik, another North Caucasus republic, was set on fire. These incidents underscore the fragile ethnic and religious tensions not only in Russia but globally. They also showcase how international or external events can trigger domestic unrest, which, in turn, might have geopolitical repercussions, especially when nations are quick to cast blame on external entities for internal issues.