MOSCOW (AP) — Russia has announced its entry in the upcoming Eurovision song contest, seemingly putting an end to speculation that Russia might boycott the politically charged competition in Kiev.
Several Russian lawmakers and entertainment stars have called to boycott the competition to be held in the Ukrainian capital in May as once friendly relations between the two-countries turned into open animosity following Russia's annexation of Crimea and support for separatist rebels.
Russian broadcaster Channel One announced on Sunday that 27-year-old Yulia Samoylova would represent Russia at the contest with the song "Flame is Burning." Samoylova, who has used a wheelchair since childhood, was a finalist in Russia's X Factor in 2013 and sang at the opening of the 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi.
The Eurovision contest was often used as the stage for settling political scores. A year after a brief war between Russia and Georgia in 2008, Georgia was told by the organizers to change its entry for the contest which referred to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Samoylova's song about hope and perseverance contrasts with Ukraine's winning entry in 2016 that gave the country the right to host the competition this year. An ethnic Crimean Tatar performed a song that shed light on the Tatars' horrific deportations to Central Asia under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and also hinted to how Tatars are now treated in the Russia-occupied Crimea.
Although the selection indicates that Russia is not planning to boycott the competition, this doesn't mean that Samoylova will get to Ukraine. She has toured in Russia-occupied Crimea, and Ukrainian law allows authorities to block the entry to the country to anyone who visited Crimea without crossing the de-facto land border and going through Ukrainian border control and customs. Few Crimea visitors do so.
Talking to reporters on Monday, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected suggestions that Moscow was provoking Kiev by sending a singer who has apparently broken the Ukrainian law. Peskov said "practically everyone has been to Crimea" and insisted that Ukraine as the host country has the obligations to uphold the rules of the competition.