This year's Russian-hosted Eurovision song contest is shaping into a new Battle of Moscow, with several former Soviet states setting their sights on the motherland. Now, Russia has thickened the plot even further, choosing one of Ukraine's former contenders as their own Eurovision representative.
Kiev's Anastasia Prikhodko has been selected by Russian TV viewers and judges as the country's 2009 Eurovision entry. Her song, Mamo, is sung in both Ukrainian and Russian. It was included in the competition just two days before the heats began.
Prikhodko formerly competed for Ukraine's Eurovision title, but was disqualified because Mamo was too long and not an original composition. A judge then invited her to compete for the Russian crown, where the same rules do not apply. As a winner of Star Factory, Russia's Fame Academy equivalent, she was already familiar to Russian audiences and ended up with 25% of their vote – the largest of any competitor. Prikhodko was also the Russian judges' favourite, by six votes to five.
Ukraine will be represented at Eurovision by Svetlana Loboda.
Prikhodko's win may itself be a volley – or a conciliatory gesture – in the ongoing "gas war" between Russia and Ukraine. Just weeks ago Russia cut off gas supplies to its neighbour, and the Ukrainian government remains deep in an internal struggle over the country's relationship with Moscow.
Inevitably, some Russians are upset at the Eurovision results. "A Ukrainian song will represent Russia in Eurovision!" complained Yana Rudkovskaya, producer of last year's winning Russian entry. "It's very strange. It's a shock. I fear we won't even make it into the top 10," she told newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda.
The producer for Valeriya, the losing finalist, was equally critical. "How can someone who lost ... in Ukraine, represent Russia?" snorted Yusif Prigozhin. "It's a disgrace."
Besides, Prigozhin said, "a song performed in Ukrainian can't have anything to do with Russia".
Valeriya, like most of Russia's contestants, sang a song in English.
Konstantin Meladze, the producer of Mamo, called the jury's choice "correct and timely". "This is a very international song as the music was written by a Georgian, sung by a Ukrainian and half the text was written by an Estonian," he said.
This chummy cosmopolitanism is in stark contrast to Georgia's Eurovision entry, We Don't Wanna Put In, which is, well, about hating Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin. A Eurovision committee will meet next week to decide whether Georgia's entry violates contest rules banning political content.
The Eurovision finals begin in Moscow on 16 May.