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Question Mark Hangs Over Russia's Eurovision Entry Amid Boycott Calls

Ukraine won the right to host this year's Eurovision Song Contest after Jamala's power ballad about the historical plight of Crimean Tatars triumphed in the 2016 edition of the competition in Sweden, much to the chagrin of many Russians.
Ukraine won the right to host this year's Eurovision Song Contest after Jamala's power ballad about the historical plight of Crimean Tatars triumphed in the 2016 edition of the competition in Sweden, much to the chagrin of many Russians.

MOSCOW -- Every year the Eurovision pop contest brings together nations to revel in a weird and wonderful spectacle, and cast aside political differences -- mostly.

But with Eurovision 2017 set to be staged in Ukraine's capital of Kyiv in May, politics might be an insurmountable hurdle for Russia, where lawmakers and a leading pop star are calling for Moscow to boycott the competition.

A March 13 deadline looms for countries to register contestants with Eurovision's organizers, to name their song, and to submit a video recording of their intended performance. But it remains unclear whom, if anyone, Russia plans to send.

Meanwhile, there have been open calls for a boycott from outspoken Kremlin-loyal lawmakers Iosif Kobzon and Vitaly Milonov, as well as from flamboyant pop king Filipp Kirkorov. The Kremlin has not formally joined the calls, but has said it believes there could be security problems for Russians in Ukraine.

Russia seized Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula in 2014 and has backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has killed more than 9,750.

Russian state TV, meanwhile, has painted a frightening picture claiming that ethnic Russians face persecution in Ukraine, a portrayal Kyiv and its Western allies have denounced as propaganda.

WATCH: Russians React To Ukraine Winning Eurovision 2016

Politics And Music? Russians React To Ukraine Winning Eurovision
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Mikhail Kesarev, a journalist covering Eurovision for, told the Nezavisimaya Gazeta broadsheet that it would look "strange" for Russia to send a delegation to the event considering state media's depiction of a dire security situation in Ukraine. He also said there is "very little time left" to apply for the contest.

The newspaper on March 7 assessed as "high" the likelihood that Moscow would skip the event altogether -- although it noted that a final decision had "not yet been made."

'Unwelcome Guests'

On March 1, Milonov, a member of parliament best known for his strident antigay campaigning, called on Konstantin Ernst, general director of the state-run Channel One television station, not to send contestants to the competition or even broadcast the event on TV.

In characteristically outspoken comments, Milonov accused Ukraine of "disgraceful anti-Russian and Russophobic policies," saying it would be "unacceptable" for Moscow to take part and comparing Ukraine to Nazi Germany.

"It's impossible to imagine that Soviet citizens in 1943 would have gone to a Reich-ovision music competition," Milonov wrote.

He added that Russians are "unwelcome guests in a state taken over by fanatics dreaming of destroying all the best there is between us and the Ukrainian people."

Later that day, Kobzon, a well-known crooner and deputy head of the parliamentary commission for culture, agreed with Milonov.

"We should not take part in Eurovision so as not to allow them to be Russophobic in Ukraine," Kobzon said.

The following day, in comments to the Interfax news agency, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said no decision has been made to skip the contest, but that he believes the lawmakers' concerns are justified given "possible problems with security and unfriendliness."

Crimea In The Crosshairs

Ukraine-born Russian pop singer Aleksandr Panayotov had been tipped as the most likely candidate to represent Russia, but on March 3 said he is not planning to take part. Panayotov went on to suggest the contest should be moved.

"You have to understand there is a strange situation in both Ukraine and in Russia," Panayotov told the entertainment news portal "Perhaps it would be worth moving the competition to some neutral country, to a different city -- to London, for instance. Or we could simply boycott Eurovision, as some are suggesting."

Ukraine is hosting the contest after winning last year with Jamala's performance of 1944, a song commemorating Crimean Tatars who were deported en masse by Josef Stalin to Soviet Central Asia during World War II.

Ukraine's win last year is another source of grievance. Russia protested that the 1944 song was a thinly disguised attack on Russia's takeover of Crimea -- which was dismissed as illegitimate by 100 countries in the UN -- and therefore in violation of rules prohibiting politics at the event.

WATCH: Jamala Celebrates Eurovision Win

Jamala Celebrates Eurovision Win
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In May 2016, Russian lawmaker Frants Klintsevich declared that "politics triumphed over art" at the contest and suggested Russia might boycott the event.

Russian pop star Sergei Lazarev, who represented Russia at the Eurovision last year, finishing third, urged against any boycott.

"I think once again we should show that our country has talented performers and can put on a show that the whole of Europe talks about and votes for," he said in comments to Life News published on March 6.

But other pop stars are less convinced. Last month, Kirkorov told Komsomolskaya Pravda that "after what happened last year, I see no point in taking part in this contest." He condemned what he called the "politicized" nature of the competition.

Channel One has not commented on the matter. But Russian newspapers have reported that both Kobzon and Milonov were invited to take part in a talk show on the network dedicated to the Eurovision, triggering speculation that the program will make the case for a boycott.

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