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ISW: Antisemitic demonstrations in Dagestan revealed heightened ethnic tension in Russia

A Telegram channel sparked unrest in Dagestan by claiming “Israeli refugees” were staying at a local hotel. It prompted protesters to swarm the airport shouting “death to Jews”
Protesters at the airport in Makhachkala, in the Russian region of Dagestan, on 29 October Credit: AP
ISW: Antisemitic demonstrations in Dagestan revealed heightened ethnic tension in Russia

On 29 October, hundreds of protesters in Dagestan (a subject of the Russian Federation that is part of the North Caucasus) broke into a local airport and blocked a runway in response to online rumours about plans to resettle “Israeli refugees” in the area. ISW reported that this highlighted increased religious tensions in the region.

According to local reports, demonstrators attempted to stop a plane arriving from Israel, chanting “death to Jews” and checking passengers’ documents for Israeli citizenship.

The Institute for the Study of War reported that Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia) elements have removed demonstrators from the premises of the airport, but crowds are still present outside of the airport.

As crowds gathered outside the airport in the Dagestani capital of Makhachkala, regional leaders appealed for calm. “I call on the residents of Dagestan to refrain from rash actions that could lead to destabilization of the situation,” stated Republic Head Sergei Melikov. However, protesters broke into the airport regardless, temporarily blocking departures.

The chief rabbi for Dagestan stated that hundreds of Jewish families should leave. “Russia is not salvation” as “there were pogroms in Russia too,” remarked Ovadya Isakov.

According to ISW, Russian President Vladimir Putin lauded Russia as a beacon of religious harmony at a meeting with leaders of Russian religious organizations, including Jewish and Islamic faith leaders, on 25 Oct.

“The Kremlin likely aims to present Russia as protecting its religious minorities to curry favour with Muslim and Jewish audiences against the backdrop of the Israeli-Hamas war and to downplay tensions caused by the increasingly ultranationalist Russian Orthodox Church,” ISW reported.

The protests appear to have been sparked by social media claims that “Israeli refugees” were staying at a hotel in the nearby city of Khasavyurt, Russia. A Telegram channel called for demonstrations, stating “Israeli refugees were at the hotel.” It then posted flight details of an incoming plane from Israel prior to the airport protest.

The Telegram channel that spread the rumours is currently down. ISW concluded that it may be the first indicator that Russian authorities are trying to suppress the continuation of the antisemitic demonstrations.

Other takeaways from the ISW report:

  • Ukrainian forces advanced near Bakhmut amid continued offensive operations near Bakhmut and in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast on October 29.
  • The New York Times (NYT) reported that US officials will send Ukraine hybrid air defence systems in the fall of 2023.
  • The Russian information space continues to debate the future of the Wagner Group’s remaining personnel.
  • Russian military personnel continue to commit violent crimes in occupied Ukraine.

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