The Kremlin and local Russian leaders attempted Monday to blame “external interference” from Ukraine and the West for an antisemitic riot that caused the closure of an airport in the Muslim-majority region of Dagestan the previous day, after dozens of people stormed the site trying to hunt down Israelis and Jews.
The Kremlin announced that President Vladimir Putin was set to gather his top advisers — including the defense minister and spy chiefs — later Monday to discuss the “West’s attempts to use the events in the Middle East to split Russian society.”
Russian police said they had arrested 60 people suspected of violently storming Makhachkala airport, seeking to attack Jewish passengers coming from Israel.
Dozens of protesters, many of them chanting “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest), broke through doors and barriers at the airport on Sunday, charging onto the runway.
The crowd of men tried to surround a plane that had landed from Tel Aviv, looking for Jews.
None of the passengers were hurt in the incident, according to Alex Bendersky, a Russian-speaking Israeli who covered the event on Carmel News, a Telegram channel that focuses on Russia and Ukraine.
According to Carmel News, aboard the plane were Dagestani children who had undergone medical treatment in Israel.
“Yesterday’s events at Makhachkala airport are, to a large extent, the result of external interference,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed in a briefing to reporters.
“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,” Peskov said.
Prominent figures in Dagestan have spoken in support of the Palestinians and against Israel since the murderous Oct. 7 Hamas assault on Israel that killed 1,400 people, mostly civilians, in the worst-ever terror attack in the country’s history, with at least another 243 people taken hostage.
Israel has hit back with relentless airstrikes against Hamas targets across the Strip and sent troops into northern Gaza.
Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry has said that more than 8,300 people have been killed in the war, many of them children. The figures issued by the terror group cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include its own members killed in Gaza and in Israel, and the victims of what Israel says are hundreds of errant Palestinian rockets aimed at Israel that have landed in the Strip since the war began.
Peskov did not provide further details Monday on the claims of “external interference,” though officials in Dagestan have pointed to Ukraine.
Putin’s meeting with his top security chiefs comes over 20 months after his Ukraine invasion, which has plunged Moscow into isolation.
Russia regularly blames unrest in the country on outside — usually Western — interference.
Sunday’s antisemitic riot came four days after Putin gathered religious leaders, saying “inter-religious agreement is the basis of Russian statehood.”
A day after the riot, the airport said it had “significant damage” but resumed flights on Monday afternoon. Russia had initially said the airport would be closed for six days.
Flights to and from Tel Aviv will be temporarily redirected to other Russian cities, Russia’s federal aviation agency said.
Five people were still in hospital on Monday, Dagestan’s health ministry said, including four police officers injured while trying to restore order.
Local authorities said they had identified more than 150 people who took part in the riot. The mob descended on the airport tarmac after a flight landed from Ben Gurion Airport.
Flight tracking website Flightradar24 indicated that a Red Wings flight out of Tel Aviv had landed at Makhachkala at 7:00 p.m. (1600 GMT) on Sunday.
It had reportedly been due to take off again for Moscow afterward.
The governor of Dagestan, Sergei Melikov, vowed punishment for those responsible for the airport storming and called for his people not to succumb to “provocations” over events in Israel and Gaza.
“All Dagestanis empathize with the suffering of victims by the actions of unrighteous people and politicians and pray for peace in Palestine,” he said. “But what happened at our airport is outrageous and should receive the appropriate assessment from law enforcement.”
Melikov pointed the finger at Ukraine.
According to independent reports, Dagestan has sent proportionately more men to fight in Ukraine than many ethnic Russian regions.