Russia’s Dagestan airport closed after anti-Israel protests: What to know

Authorities arrest 60 people as protests against arrival of flight from Israel forces the Makhachkala airport to shut down.

Hundreds of people in Russia’s Dagestan region angry at Israeli bombardment of Gaza stormed an airport on Sunday as a flight from Tel Aviv landed.

The Makhachkala airport was forced to close after some of the protesters made it to the runway while some others were heard chanting anti-Jewish slogans.

At least 60 people have been arrested following the clashes between protesters and police at the airport.

Here is what we know so far about what happened at the Dagestan airport protest.

What happened?

  • At 7pm local time (4:00pm GMT) on Sunday, a Russian Red Wings airline flight from the Israeli city of Tel Aviv landed at Makhachkala airport, according to Flightradar24.
  • Hundreds of protesters broke through security to make it to the runaway and inundate the area around the parked Russian carrier. Social media videos show crowd members breaking down glass doors and running through the airport. Some were also chanting anti-Jewish slogans, waving Palestinian flags or checking the passports of arriving passengers.
  • At about 10pm (19:00 GMT) the protesters were cleared from the runway, according to security officials.
  • The Israeli passengers were isolated and guarded, according to Israeli media outlets citing Israeli security officials.
  • The transiting flight took off for Moscow two hours after arrival, according to independent Russian media outlet Sota.
  • Early on Monday, Russia’s interior ministry said, “More than 150 active participants in the unrest have been identified, 60 of them have been arrested,” although it is not clear if any official charges have been issued yet, according to the Associated Press news agency.

Where did it happen?

The protest took place at Makhachkala airport, the major airport in Russia’s Republic of Dagestan. Makhachkala, the republic’s capital and largest city, lies on the coast of Dagestan.

Map showing Dagestan republic in Russia
(Al Jazeera)

Did anyone get injured?

Twenty people have been injured with two in a critical condition, according to AP. Nine of those injured were police officers who clashed with the crowd.

What is the latest on the ground?

Russia’s aviation agency, Rosaviatsiya, said Makhachkala airport will be closed until Tuesday, according to Agence France-Presse. Earlier, they had said all flights to and from Makhachkala airport will be suspended until November 6.

The airport is “now totally under the control of security forces” according to a statement from Russia’s interior ministry.

The airfield has also been cleared of unauthorised people while incoming flights have been redirected to airports nearby, said Rosaviatsiya.

security on the runway
Security forces have taken control of Makhachkala airport. [Telegram channel @askrasul/AFP PHOTO]

What are people saying?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expecting Russian law enforcement to “act resolutely against the rioters and against the wild incitement directed against Jews and Israelis”, according to a statement released by his office on Sunday night.

Russia’s government warned protesters through Telegram “not to continue illegal acts and not to interfere with the work of airport employees”.

Dagestan’s Supreme Mufti Sheikh Akhmad Afandi told residents that although he understands their “indignation,” the issue cannot be resolved this way. He asked residents to not rally but exert “maximum patience and calm”, in a video shared to Telegram.

A White House spokesperson condemned the incident saying the United States “unequivocally stands with the entire Jewish community as we witness a worldwide surge in anti-Semitism”.

What do we know about the region?

The republic has a majority Muslim population and is home to more than 50 different nationalities and ethnicities. It is also known as “the Mountain of Languages” or “Mountain of Nationalities”.

About 1,000 years ago, it served as Islam’s gateway to Russia and for almost a decade until 2017, when Russian security forces in the region were battling an armed rebellion.

Dagestan currently channels major oil and gas pipelines from the Caspian Sea to the Russian heartland.

What did the Kremlin say about the violence?

Russia on Monday blamed “external interference” for the airport violence.

“Yesterday’s events at Makhachkala airport are, to a large extent, the result of external interference,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told 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 told reporters on Monday.

The Kremlin did not provide further details on its claim of “external interference”.

Peskov added that President Vladimir Putin was due to hold a meeting with his top advisers, including the defence minister and spy chiefs, later on Monday to discuss “the West’s attempts to use the events in the Middle East to split Russian society”.

State media earlier cited Dagestan’s governor as saying the “initiators of this action are our enemies who organised it from Ukrainian territory”.

What is Russia’s stance on the Israel-Hamas war?

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin condemned Hamas’s October 7 attack while also likening Israel’s blockade of Gaza to a Nazi Germany siege.

Experts suggest that Putin is “not pro-Israel” and looking for the conflict to escalate so that it shifts global attention away from the Russia-Ukraine war.

At the United Nations, Russia has presented two unsuccessful draft resolutions to the UN Security Council, calling for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, and the release of all captives held by Hamas. Its resolutions have received a backlash from some states for not mentioning Israel’s right to self-defence.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies