A mob stormed an airport in southern Russia where a commercial flight from Tel Aviv had arrived on Sunday night, according to Russian state media and videos posted from the scene. The episode followed several anti-Israel protests in the region that could signal a new point of friction for the Kremlin as it wages a war in Ukraine.
The Russian authorities announced that the airport where the mob had formed, in Makhachkala, the capital of the predominantly Muslim Dagestan region, was temporarily closed and riot police were dispatched to the scene.
The Israeli government said in a statement that it was following the events closely and expected the Russian authorities to protect all Israeli citizens and Jews, and to act firmly against the rioters and against what it described as “the wild incitement directed at Jews and Israelis.”
President Vladimir V. Putin has listed interethnic and interreligious accord in Russia as a main policy priority. Anti-Israel and antisemitic protests in the North Caucasus, a region 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.
There were no immediate reports of arrests at the airport, and it was not clear exactly what had taken place, as unverified videos of the chaotic scene spread across social media. Some people in the videos held Palestinian flags and carried signs opposing the war in Gaza, and some chanted “Allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is great.”
RIA Novosti, a Russian state news agency, posted a video of what it said were law enforcement officers assembling on the airport’s tarmac.
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 a 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.”
Local health authorities reported that an unspecified number of people had been injured, but it was not immediately clear if they were rioters, passengers or police officers. The regional police said that local investigators had opened a criminal probe into the riot, and promised that everyone who had participated would be held responsible.
Sergei Melikov, the head of Dagestan, condemned the rioters, saying that “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 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, the 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 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.”