Latest news on Russia and the war in Ukraine

Moscow under pressure to confront rising ethnic tensions

Moscow is coming under increasing pressure to protect the country’s Jewish community after the latest episode of antisemitism highlighted growing interethnic tensions in Russia.

An angry anti-Israel mob stormed an airport in the Russian republic of Dagestan on Sunday, reportedly looking for passengers that arrived on a flight from Tel Aviv. Russian media reported that at least several hundred pro-Palestinian “protesters” stormed the airport terminal and runway in the Muslim-majority republic because of their opposition to the war between Israel and Hamas.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Kremlin in Moscow on January 30, 2020.

Maxim Shemetov | Afp | Getty Images

Some of the group shouted antisemitic slogans, reports and social media footage suggested, while others waved Palestinian flags and shouted “Allahu Akbar,” (“God is the greatest” in Arabic). A plane from Tel Aviv was surrounded, with passengers forced to hand over their passports for their nationality to be checked.

The incident has put divisions in Russia’s ethnically and religiously diverse population in the spotlight, with tensions rising between Russia’s rapidly declining Jewish community (both in terms of practicing and ethnically Jewish people) and its Muslim populace, with Islam being the second-largest religion in Russia, after Orthodox Christianity.

Read more on the story here: Rampage by antisemitic mob puts pressure on Moscow to confront rising ethnic tensions in Russia

U.S. rejects Putin claims on airport mob as ‘absurd’

White House National Security Council Strategic Communications Coordinator John Kirby.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

The U.S. rejected accusations by Russian President Vladimir Putin that the West and Ukraine had orchestrated an anti-Israel riot in an airport in the Russian republic of Dagestan over the weekend, calling the allegations “absurd.”

In a televised meeting, Putin said the West and Ukraine had organized the “deadly chaos,” saying it is “the current ruling elites of the U.S. and their satellites who are the main beneficiaries of world instability.”

John Kirby, spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council, told reporters at a White House briefing on Monday that the claims were “classic Russian rhetoric.”

“When something goes bad in your country, you blame somebody else, blame it on outside influences” he said, adding that “the West had nothing to do with this. This is just hate, bigotry and intimidation, pure and simple.”

Kirby said a good leader “would call it out for what it is.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Putin blames the West and Ukraine for sowing ‘deadly chaos’ after airport riot

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of Security Council, Russian government and law enforcement agencies in Moscow on Oct. 30, 2023.

Gavriil Grigorov | Afp | Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the West and Ukraine of orchestrating an anti-Israel riot in an airport in the Russian republic of Dagestan over the weekend, claiming they stood to benefit from a divided Russia.

In a televised meeting with senior officials, Putin said the West and Ukraine organized the “deadly chaos” at the Makhachkala airport, saying it is “the current ruling elites of the U.S. and their satellites who are the main beneficiaries of world instability.”

“Who is organizing the deadly chaos, and who benefits from it. Today, in my opinion, this has already become obvious and clear to everyone,” he said, according to comments published on the Kremlin website.

Putin also told members of the Security Council, Russian government and law enforcement agencies present at the meeting — which focused on the situation in Dagestan — that attempts were being made to use conflict in the Middle East “against Russia.”

“I have already spoken about attempts to use the dramatic situation in the Middle East, other regional conflicts against our country, against Russia. To destabilize and split our multinational and multi-religious society. To do this, they use a variety of means, as we see, the best provocations and sophisticated psychological technologies and information aggression.” Putin did not provide evidence for his claims.

The White House rejected the allegations with John Kirby, spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council, describing them as “classic Russian rhetoric” and saying “the West had nothing to do with this. This is just hate, bigotry and intimidation, pure and simple.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine denies any role in Dagestan airport riot

Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak denied Russian accusations Monday that Ukraine had a role in anti-Israel unrest in the Russian republic Dagestan at the weekend.

 “The storm is certainly already raging,” Podolyak commented on X, formerly known as Twitter, adding that the “preconditions” for the riot in Dagestan in which a mob of pro-Palestinian protestors stormed an airport, some chanting antisemitic slogans and reportedly seeking Jewish passengers off a flight from Tel Aviv had been “formed by decades of wrong.”

“‘Pseudo-assimilative’ policies, toleration of the lawless behavior of aggressive regimes that violate global rules, and obvious flirting with Russian plans to ‘change the world order,’ have led to today’s sad consequences and tragedies,” he said.

Law enforcement officers patrol an area outside the airport in Makhachkala on October 30, 2023. Russian police on October 30, 2023 said they had arrested 60 people suspected of storming an airport in the Muslim-majority Caucasus republic of Dagestan, seeking to attack Jewish passengers coming from Israel. (Photo by STRINGER / AFP) (Photo by STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images)

Stringer | Afp | Getty Images

“We are reaping increasingly bitter fruits: the rooting of hatred towards various ethnic groups with subsequent attempts to destroy them; residual destruction of world institutions; media bravado with outright atrocities against the civilian population and escalation of war with a genocidal component,” he added.

Podolyak’s comments come after Russia accused the West, and Ukraine, of orchestrating the unrest in Dagestan and of trying to divide Russian society, without presenting any evidence to back up its claims. Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to meet senior officials Monday evening to discuss the incident in Dagestan.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia beefs up forces near Bakhmut, switches from defensive posture

Russia has significantly bulked up its forces around the devastated city of Bakhmut in the east and has switched its troops from a defensive posture to taking “active actions”, a Ukrainian military commander said on Monday.

Russia captured Bakhmut, the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting of the 20-month war, in May. Ukraine has been on the counteroffensive since June to try to retake occupied land in the south and east, including the town.

An aerial view of the city of Bakhmut totally destroyed from heavy battles on September 27, 2023 in Bakhmut, Ukraine. 

Libkos | Getty Images

“In the Bakhmut area, the enemy has significantly strengthened its grouping and switched from defence to active actions,” General Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of the ground forces, wrote on Telegram messenger.

He described the situation in the east as difficult with Russian forces particularly active near the northeastern Ukrainian-held town of Kupiansk, where he said Moscow’s troops were trying to advance simultaneously in several directions.

Russian troops have suffered heavy losses, he said. Reuters could not independently verify that assertion or the battlefield account.

In its daily report on the fighting, the Ukrainian General Staff said Russian forces continued in their attempts to regain control over Andriivka to the south of Bakhmut, which Kyiv’s forces said they had retaken in September.

It said that Ukraine’s troops continued to conduct their own assault operations south of Bakhmut and were inflicting losses in manpower and equipment. Russia has also been pushing in recent weeks to encircle and capture the eastern town of Avdiivka.

— Reuters

Putin to discuss ‘the West’s attempts’ to divide Russian society, Kremlin says

A day after an angry anti-Israel mob stormed a Russian airport, President Vladimir Putin is to hold a meeting with senior officials in which he’ll discuss what the Kremlin described as Western attempts to “split Russian society.”

The Kremlin said Monday that the meeting comes after an angry mob stormed an airport in Russian republic Dagestan, reportedly looking for passengers arriving on a flight from Tel Aviv.

People shouting antisemitic slogans at an airfield of the airport in Makhachkala, Russia, on Oct. 30, 2023.

AP

The Kremlin appeared to blame the West for the incident, claiming it had used the escalating tensions in the Middle East to sow discord in Russia itself, without providing evidence to back the claim.

“Putin plans to hold a large representative meeting today at approximately 19:00 Moscow time and discuss the West’s attempts to use events in the Middle East to split Russian society. A detailed conversation will take place,” the Kremlin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said, in comments published by Russian news agency Tass.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his press conference at the Third Belt and Road Forum on Oct. 18, 2023, in Beijing.

Contributor | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Putin will speak and the meeting will be held behind closed doors. Russia’s defense minister and the heads of the intelligence services will attend the meeting.

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine to blame for Dagestan airport riots, Russia’s foreign ministry claims

Russia’s foreign ministry claimed Ukraine had a “direct and key role” in a riot in Dagestan in which anti-Israel rioters stormed an airport reportedly looking for passengers who had arrived on a flight from Tel Aviv.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova claimed Monday that the riot in Dagestan on Sunday was “the result of an external provocation planned and carried out with an aim to undermine the harmonious development and ethnic … unity of the people of the Russian Federation.”

“In the implementation of their next destructive action, a direct and key role was assigned to the criminal Kyiv regime, which in turn acted through the hands of notorious Russophobes who settled there,” she said. Zakharova did not present evidence for her claims.

A New Year decoration stylized as the “Kremlin Star,” a tactical insignia of Russian troops in Ukraine, in Moscow, on Jan. 2, 2023.

Natalia Kolesnikova | Afp | Getty Images

Earlier, the Kremlin appeared to blame the West for the incident, saying it was trying to “split Russian society.”

Ukraine has not yet responded directly to Russia’s comments but President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, described video footage of the mob at the Makhachkala airport as “appalling” and said it was “not an isolated incident … but rather part of Russia’s widespread culture of hatred toward other nations, which is propagated by state television, pundits, and authorities.”

“For Russian propaganda talking heads on official television, hate rhetoric is routine. Even the most recent Middle East escalation prompted antisemitic statements from Russian ideologists,” he said.

— Holly Ellyatt

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