Mob Storms Russian Airport to Try to Block Plane from Tel Aviv

Sputnik/Gavriil Grigorov/Pool via REUTERS
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting of members of his Security Council and the government and the heads of law enforcement agencies, at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia October 30, 2023.

More than 20 people were injured when hundreds of rioters stormed a Russian airport in the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan and ran onto the tarmac Sunday night following calls on social media to block a flight from Tel Aviv.

Russian President Vladimir Putin described the incident as a pogrom on Monday – though he deferred blame, alleging Ukrainian and Western involvement in the riot. He did not provide any evidence for these claims.

The flight from Tel Aviv was scheduled to arrive at 7 p.m. local time Sunday. Earlier in the day, a number of Telegram channels based in Dagestan had issued calls for people to go to the airport and “catch” Israelis on the flight.

When the flight landed, dozens of people broke past security and onto the tarmac. Passengers from Israel who were about to disembark were ordered back onto the plane.

Video taken at the airport shows the rioters waving Palestinian flags, breaking down doors, entering what appear to be secure areas and trying to overturn a police car.

The incident prompted Russian authorities to open a criminal investigation and close the airport in Makhachkala, capital of the Muslim-majority region. Russian carrier Aeroflot said it was diverting flights from Makhachkala to Grozny airport in the Chechen Republic on Sunday night and Monday.

Civil aviation authorities said the Makhachkala airport reopened Monday at 2 p.m. Moscow time. But flights by two Russian carriers, Azimuth Airlines and Red Wings Airlines, from Tel Aviv to Mineralnye Vody and Makhachkala will be temporarily diverted to other cities, the Federal Air Transport Agency said.

About 1,200 people stormed the airport, Russia’s RBC media group reported, citing Dagestan’s Interior Ministry. The ministry said 60 people were arrested.

Of the more than 20 people injured, nine were police officers, Russian authorities said.

The 20 injured people included police and civilians, the Health Ministry wrote on Telegram. Ten people have been hospitalized, two of whom are in critical condition, it added.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on X, formerly Twitter, that Israel expects Russia “to safeguard the well-being of all Israeli citizens and Jews wherever they are and to take strong action against the rioters and against the wild incitement being directed against Jews and Israelis.”

Israel’s ambassador to Russia is working with Russian authorities “to secure the well-being of Jews and Israelis at the site,” the prime minister’s office added.

Putin convened a meeting with security and government officials on Monday to discuss the situation in Dagestan. In that meeting, Putin alleged that Kyiv, with the help of Western security services, had helped incite the riot in Makhachkala.

“U.S. ruling elites are trying to weaken Russia from inside without succeeding on the battlefield,” Putin said.

“The key to resolving the conflict in the Middle East is the creation of a sovereign, full-fledged Palestinian state,” Putin added.

In a post on X, National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said the United States “vigorously condemns the antisemitic protests in Dagestan” and “unequivocally stands with the entire Jewish community as we witness a worldwide surge in antisemitism,” adding: “There is never any excuse or justification for antisemitism.”

In a Telegram post, the regional government of Dagestan voiced support for Palestinians in Gaza while urging people not to participate in riots.

“Federal authorities and international organizations are making every effort to bring about a cease-fire against Gaza civilians. … We urge residents of the republic not to succumb to the provocations of destructive groups and not to create panic in society,” it wrote, according to an Associated Press translation.

The supreme mufti of Dagestan, Sheikh Akhmad Afandi, called on people to stop the unrest at the airport. “This issue cannot be resolved in this way,” he said in a video published to Telegram, the AP reported.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a tweet called videos of the incident “appalling.”

“This is not an isolated incident in Makhachkala, but rather part of Russia’s widespread culture of hatred toward other nations, which is propagated by state television, pundits and authorities,” Zelensky said.

The Makhachkala airport “has been cleared of protesters,” Russia’s civil aviation agency said late Sunday.

Russia’s Investigative Committee in Dagestan said it has opened a criminal case on charges of “organizing mass disorder,” a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison.