If ever there was a year to doubt Russia’s participation at the Eurovision Song Contest it would have been 2017, as the country remains locked in conflict with geopolitical rival and the next Eurovision host Ukraine.
But on Saturday, Zurab Alasania, the General Director of the National Television Company of Ukraine, confirmed that Russia will compete at Eurovision.
In an interview with the Weekly Mirror (zn.ua) he said: “At first, they were grumbling about it, but then said they would participate and even named a potential candidate.”
It’s an unusual way for Russia’s participation to be confirmed.
Normally national broadcasters issue press releases and decide how and when to reveal they’re coming to the party.
But Russia has not yet made an official announcement, which stoked rumours that they might not participate owing to security concerns or even sour grapes after perceived mistreatment by the juries at Eurovision 2016.
There is, of course, a history of broken political relations leading to broken Eurovision relations. Armenia withdrew from Eurovision 2012, hosted by regional foe Azerbaijan, on March 7 — just two months before the contest and amid security concerns.
The journalists at the Weekly Mirror also asked Mr. Alasania whether artists currently listed on the government’s blacklist will be allowed to visit the country during Eurovision.
He said that it’s a “question for the SBU [security services]”, but pointed out that Konstantin Ernst, the director of the First Channel of Russia, can attend, despite being blacklisted.
The journalists asked specifically about Russian composer Philip Kirkorov, who composed Sergey Lazarev’s “You Are The Only One” last year, and Alasania made it clear that he is not on the blacklist.
Interestingly, rumours are currently swirling that Russia will internally select a Ukrainian-born singer to compete to sing for Russia in Kyiv.
There is a lot of buzz around Aleksander Panayotov, who is also a favourite to win the current series of The Voice of Russia.
Aleksander was born in Zaporizhia, Ukraine, back when it was part of the Soviet Union. Since the early 2000s, he’s lived in St. Petersburg and Moscow. In 2002, he competed on the Russian version of Popstars, where he made it to the top 10 in the grand final. And then in 2003 he competed in Russian Idol, where he placed second.
He’s also been a regular at Russia’s national selections for Eurovision.
In 2005 he placed fifth with the song “Balalayka”, which he sang with Alexey Chumakov. In 2007 the duo were shortlisted during an internal selection, and in 2008 he narrowly missed out (by only two points!) as a solo artist, placing second with the peace song “Crescent and Cross”.
Then in 2009, he tried his luck in his home country, again placing second with “Superhero” in Ukraine’s national final. And finally in 2010, he was back in the Russian national final, where his song “Maya Showtime” placed sixth.