Vitalii Portnikov

Russia returns to pogrom

Amidst the turmoil in the Middle East, troubling incidents are unfolding in the city of Khasavyurt in Dagestan. Angry residents are attempting to storm the Flamingo Hotel, which reportedly accommodates “Israeli refugees.” In another North Caucasus city, Nalchik, an unfinished building belonging to the Jewish community center is being vandalized. 

Only those distanced from the political reality in Russia and the North Caucasus may perceive these events as mere social excesses triggered by reactions of individuals from Muslim communities to Middle Eastern developments. In the context of Russia’s status as a police state, the North Caucasus republics represent an even stricter embodiment of that system. The Kremlin has exerted comprehensive control over these regions, which were potential hotspots for destabilization, since the Chechen wars. Under such circumstances, it is implausible that anti-Semitic activities could be amateur endeavors, as any such rallies could have been promptly curbed during the planning stage.

However, this resurgence in antisemitic propaganda is a calculated part of Kremlin policy. Vladimir Putin, for instance, was in no hurry to offer condolences to the families of the victims of the tragic attack in Israel and even permitted a Hamas delegation to visit Moscow. Dmitry Kiselev, a TV presenter who commonly conveys official viewpoints, characterized Russia as a historically Muslim state, underscoring that anti-Semitism is ingrained in Muslim political culture. Such actions and statements make acts of vandalism a natural extension of this political trajectory.

Employing antisemitic rhetoric enables Putin to showcase that Russia is ready to confront the United States and the “collective West” not only in the Ukrainian conflict but also in the Middle East turmoil. It suggests that the sentiment of the Russian public—albeit, at this point, mainly in the Caucasus—aligns with the opinions of an Arab or Turkish populace, hinting that signs banning Jews from public spaces might surface not just in Istanbul but also in Khasavyurt. This is how Putin positions himself as a champion of the “Global South,” and propagating anti-Semitic sentiments falls in line with his aspirations for a Soviet resurgence.

This policy also permits the Russian president to bank on anti-Jewish sentiments to unite society, paralleling the way animosity towards Ukrainians has been leveraged. Moreover, it helps divert attention from the pursuit of genuine causes of the nation’s woes by casting the Jewish community as a new yet age-old adversary. In the North Caucasus republics, people are enduring complete marginalization under Putin’s rule—economic hardships, tight surveillance, migration, unemployment, and the prohibition of teaching native languages. Yet, who shoulders the blame for this bleak state of affairs? Jews, of course!

Consequently, the Russian state, ensnared in Putin’s war in Ukraine and estranged from the West, is resorting to an instrument reminiscent of the tsars and general secretaries—a revival of the Jewish pogrom.

About the Author
Vitalii Portnikov is a Ukrainian publicist, writer, TV presenter and member of the Ukrainian PEN. He is also an author and renowned journalist working in democratic media in Central and Eastern Europe for more than three decades. He is the author of hundreds of analytical articles in Ukrainian, Belarusian, Polish, Russian, Israeli, Baltic media. He hosts television programs and his own analytical channels on YouTube. He is currently broadcasting at the office of the Espreso TV channel and continues to cooperate with the Ukrainian and Russian services of Radio Liberty.
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