The Eurovision Song Contest 2017 sees competitors from 42 countries battling it out to claim the continent’s most famous musical title but for the first time in 17 years, Russia will not be among the hopefuls.
The country has famously never missed a Eurovision final between 2004 and 2017, qualifying from every single semi-final round its entrants sang in since the new stage of the competition was first introduced.
So why won’t Russia compete in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Ukraine?
The answer to that question is undoubtedly a political one. Russia and Ukraine have a fraught history that came to a head in 2014 with the controversial annexation of the disputed Crimea region by Russian forces. The Ukrainian Revolution of 2014 created a power vacuum and Russian military forces took control of Crimea on March 18th 2014.
The events of 2014 were thought to be subtly referenced in Ukraine’s 2016 Eurovision entry, 1944, which told the tale of the deportation of Crimean Tatars by the Soviet Union. Russia was furious and complained about singer Jamala’s entry, accusing Ukraine of attempting to politicise the competition. Eurovision Song Contest authorities wouldn’t ban the song though, and 1944 went on to take top honours in Stockholm, Sweden in May 2016.
Relations between the two countries remained fraught in the lead up to this year’s Song Contest in Kiev but they came to a head in April when Ukraine’s security services (SBU) banned Russia’s singer from entering the country for the contest.
Olena Gitlanska, a spokesperson for the SBU revealed via her Facebook page that the service had banned Russian singer Yulia Samoylova “on the basis of information received about her violation of Ukrainian law”. That violation appeared to be Samoylova’s decision to enter Crimea, which was annexed in 2014, without crossing through the Ukrainian border.
Samoylova had toured in the disputed region in 2015 and Ukraine said this was unacceptable.
Who is Yuliya Samoylova?
Samoylova is a former Russian X Factor finalist who was selected to represent Russia at Eurovision 2017 with ‘Flame is Burning’. The singer and composer’s participation was announced just one day before the deadline, a move which seemed to anger the Ukrainian hosts.
Ukrainian MP Oleksandr Brygynets said Russia was “hiding behind a disabled person”, when wheelchair user Samoylova was announced as the country’s entrant.
Did Ukraine ban Russia from Eurovision?
Not technically, no.
After Samoylova was banned the European Broadcasting Union condemned Ukraine’s decision and negotiated a compromise whereby the Russian entrant would be allowed to perform via satellite during both the semi-finals and Grand Final should she qualify.
They also offered Russia the opportunity to change their participant and send someone who’d legally be allowed to stay in Ukraine for the duration of the event.
Why did Russia withdraw from the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest?
Russia wasn’t happy with the way things were going. Broadcaster Channel One said that the offer for Samoylova to perform in the event in Ukraine remotely was “weird”.
“We find the proposal on a remote-access participation in the contest to be weird enough and do not accept it,” Channel One said in a statement quoted by Tass news agency, adding that it “counters the very essence of the event.”
“[Channel One] have now announced they do not intend to broadcast the Eurovision Song Contest 2017” the EBU revealed in a statement. “Unfortunately this means Russia will no longer be able to take part in this year’s competition. We very much wanted all 43 countries to be able to participate and did all we could to achieve this.”
Will Russia return to Eurovision in 2018?
We’ll have to wait until next year to find out.