By Andrew Osborn
(Reuters) – Russia tightened security in its Muslim-majority North Caucasus region on Tuesday after a weekend anti-Semitic riot there, and the Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya ordered that rioters be shot dead if they fail to heed warnings.
President Vladimir Putin held an emergency meeting with top security officials on Monday evening after rioters in the southern region of Dagestan stormed an airport on Sunday to “catch” Jewish passengers arriving on a flight from Tel Aviv.
The unrest followed several other anti-Semitic incidents in recent days in North Caucasus in response to Israel’s war against Palestinian Hamas militants in Gaza. Israel has urged Moscow to protect Israelis and Jews in Russian jurisdictions.
The airport riot, which some Jewish leaders likened to Tsarist-era pogroms, left at least 20 people injured and resulted in over 80 detentions. It also seemed to catch authorities off-guard – it was hours before security forces regained control of the airport in Makachkala.
The Kremlin said Putin, who has accused the West and Ukraine of stirring up the trouble via social media – an allegation the U.S. and Kyiv have rejected – used Monday’s meeting to discuss strengthening measures to counter external interference.
It did not disclose what those measures were, but Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed head of Chechnya, was reported to have issued an order to shoot and kill anyone trying to riot in his Muslim-majority republic, which borders Dagestan.
“If we have even one person who goes out for unauthorised riots, detain and imprison him. Or fire three warning shots in the air and after that if the person does not obey the law make the fourth shot in the forehead. No more will come out (after that). This is my order,” Russia’s state RIA news agency cited Kadyrov as telling security officials.
Rabbi Alexander Boroda, the president of Russia’s Federation of Jewish Communities, called on the Kremlin on Monday to ensure that police found and punished all those who took part in the Dagestan riot “in the strictest possible manner.”
Putin did not condemn the rioters or their actions in his public statement on Monday evening, dedicating much of it to criticising the West instead.
But Dmitry Peskov, his spokesman, said on Tuesday that it was obvious that the authorities were responding appropriately and investigating what had happened.
“Of course, the relevant authorities will, firstly, take investigative action. This has already been announced,” Peskov told reporters.
“And after that, of course, the situation will be analysed to see what is necessary in order to minimise the risk or completely rule out such illegal incidents in future.”
Sergei Melikov, the governor of Dagestan, has vowed no leniency for the rioters. Dagestan is one of Russia’s poorest regions and has long suffered from high unemployment levels with a large number of young men out of work.
Like some other majority-Muslim regions, Moscow has long given it more autonomy than other Russian regions. In September 2022 when Moscow sought to mobilise men to fight in Ukraine, clashes between protesters and police broke out.
On Monday, the Telegram messaging app banned a local channel which had on Sunday urged people to go to the airport in Makachkala, Dagestan’s capital, to catch Jews. Peskov said Putin and top security officials had discussed how malicious information designed to stir up trouble could be countered.
“The focus will be on strengthening measures to counter external interference, including external information manipulation capable of inflaming the situation in our country by exploiting the theme of the same events in the Middle East,” he said.
In another anti-Semitic incident in the past few days, a Jewish centre under construction in Nalchik, capital of the nearby Russian republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, was set on fire, emergency officials said.
The unrest in Dagestan, where Russian security forces once fought and defeated an Islamist insurgency, is a headache for Putin, who is waging a war in Ukraine and is keen to maintain stability at home ahead of an expected presidential election next year.
Russia, which wants an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and backs a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has tried to maintain contact with all sides but has angered Israeli authorities by inviting a Hamas delegation to Moscow. Israel’s foreign ministry summoned the Russian ambassador on Sunday.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; additional reporting by Kevin Liffey; editing by Mark Heinrich)