Russia angry over "stolen" Eurovision votes

Reuters News
Posted: May 21, 2013 11:56 AM

By Lada Evgrashina and Steve Gutterman

BAKU/MOSCOW (Reuters) - Moscow has clashed with the European Union over human rights and with NATO over security. Now another longstanding European institution is causing anger in the Kremlin and tension between Russia and Azerbaijan: the Eurovision Song Contest.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday that 10 points were "stolen" from Russia's contestant in the weekend final of the annual musical extravaganza, who received no points from Azerbaijan - a result Azeri officials said was an error.

Russian singer Dina Garipova came in fifth with 174 points in the contest hosted by Sweden and watched by a TV audience of 125 million. Denmark's Emmelie de Forest won with 281 points and Azerbaijan's Farid Mammadov came second with 234 points.

The glitzy pop song contest became a main topic at a news conference between Lavrov and Azeri Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov after a meeting in Moscow that had been scheduled long before the flap over Eurovision.

"When 10 points are stolen from us, from our contestant, it does not make us happy - primarily as regards the organisation of the event," Lavrov said, seeming to blame organisers and not Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan scrambled to soothe Russia. The head of the Caspian Sea state's public broadcaster, Jamil Guliyev, said Azerbaijan had in fact given Garipova 10 points.

Azerbaijan's ambassador to Russia said President Ilham Aliyev had ordered authorities to find out what happened and suggested the votes had been lost during a tally in Germany.

Half the votes in the contest come from the number of telephone and SMS votes a contestant receives, with fans unable to vote for their own country's entry.

"We sincerely hope that this case, which was probably initiated by some groups, would not cast a shadow on brotherly relations of Azeri and Russian people," Guliyev said.

Moscow's influence has faded in Azerbaijan, an oil-rich nation on the Caspian Sea that has strengthened ties with the West since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.

Eurovision was started in the 1950s to help foster a spirit of unity after World War Two, but the voting can be a source of tension, with neighbours supporting each other.

In an attempt to ensure quality takes precedence over geographically motivated bloc voting from viewers, professional judges now account for 50 percent of a performer's score.

Lavrov and Mammadyarov tried to play down any tension between the two nations over the Eurovision outcome.

"When they published the results for Azerbaijan we experienced some kind of shock," Mammadyarov said.

Lavrov said the nations agreed to "coordinate joint efforts to make sure this outrageous action does not go unanswered."

Some Russians shared the government's anger, but others suggested it should focus on more serious matters.

Alex Romanov, sarcastically tweeted that Russia should "impose martial law" over the issue.

"Half the country's in poverty and we're talking about stolen votes," Timur Ochirov said on Twitter.

Azerbaijan hosted last year's Eurovision Song Contest, which Swedish performer Loreen won days after angering Azeri authorities by meeting rights activists critical of the country's human rights record.

(Additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Steve Gutterman)