April 14, 2017 / 8:02 AM / 3 years ago

Russia to boycott Eurovision song contest due to Ukraine row

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s state broadcaster has said it will boycott this year’s Eurovision song contest after the host country, Ukraine, said it would bar entry to the Russian contestant and Moscow rejected two possible compromises suggested by the organizers.

Workers prepare the stage for the Eurovision Song Contest 2017 at the International Exhibition Centre in Kiev, Ukraine, April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

Ukraine said Russian singer Yulia Samoylova could not travel to Kiev for the competition next month because she had performed in Crimea after the region was annexed by Russia.

Moscow accused Ukraine of discriminating against Samoylova and of breaching the contest’s rules. The contest organizers also condemned the Ukrainian decision but said the event will go ahead.

Russia’s Channel One, the state broadcaster that transmits the contest to large Russian audiences, said organizers had offered the option of sending a different contestant or of having Samoylova perform via video link from Moscow.

“In our view this represents discrimination against the Russian entry, and of course our team will not under any circumstances agree to such terms,” said Yuri Aksyuta, the station’s chief producer for musical and entertainment programs.

“Naturally, we are not taking part in the Eurovision 2017 competition under the terms that are being offered to us, and we will not broadcast it either,” he said.

“The absence of a Russian participant, in my view, is a very serious blow to the reputation of the contest itself, and for Russian viewers it is also another reason not to pay attention to the contest.”

The annual singing contest attracts millions of television viewers across Europe. For many countries, especially former Communist states in Europe, performing well in the event is seen as a matter of national pride.

Kiev said that Samoylova has violated Ukraine’s borders by entering Crimea without seeking permission from the Ukrainian authorities. Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014, but all but a handful of countries consider it part of Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov expressed “regret that the Eurovision organizers have turned out to be unable to fulfill the terms of their own rules,” and compel Ukraine to allow Samoylova to travel to Kiev.

The organizers of the contest, the European Broadcast Union (EBU), said in a statement they had done everything in their power so that all eligible countries could take part.

“We strongly condemn the Ukrainian authorities’ decision to impose a travel ban on Julia Samoylova as we believe it thoroughly undermines the integrity and non-political nature of the Eurovision Song Contest,” Frank Dieter Freiling, chairman of the event’s steering committee, said in statement released by the EBU.

“However, preparations continue apace for the Eurovision Song Contest in the host city Kyiv. Our top priority remains to produce a spectacular Eurovision Song Contest.”

Additional reporting by Denis Pinchuk; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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