Right then, deep breath, let’s have a look behind the headlines of Yuliya Samoylova’s inability to represent Russia on Ukrainian soil at the 62nd Eurovision Song Contest in May this year.
So far the headlines have focused on Samoylova’s ability to visit Kyiv. Chosen by Russia’s Channel 1 through an internal selection process and announced on March 12th, Samoylova was set to sing ‘Flame Is Burning’ in the second Semi Final on May 11th 2017. Following that announcement, Ukraine’s intelligence agencies investigated Samoylova and discovered she had performed in the Crimea Peninsula.
Previously annexed by Russia, Samoylova had entered the peninsula directly from Russia to perform in Kerch in 2015. By not transiting through Ukrainian border control she violated Ukrainian law, which has resulted in an entry ban being placed on the singer for three years.
As it stands Russia has a singer and song that meets the entry criteria for the Song Contest, yet the singer will not be allowed to travel to the Contest to sing because it would break Ukrainian law.
Quite frankly, this situation goes way beyond Europe’s Favourite TV Show. What is clear is that the situation is not being played out between the Ukrainian and Russian broadcasters (UA:PBC and Channel 1 respectively), but between the Ukrainian and Russian governments. To get any sort of focus on this, we need to turn away from the Song Contest.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Crimea was regarded as part of the newly independent Ukraine, a situation that resulted in ongoing diplomatic tensions between Ukraine and Russia. After following part of the process to declare self-governance it agreed to remain part of Ukraine (you can read more on this here).
In 2014 Russian separatists and Russian Armed forces occupied the territory, and following a referendum that Ukraine did not recognise as legitimate, Russia annexed Crimea as federal subjects of Russia (you can read more on this here).
There is now a military stand-off, but the political and strategic goals of the two countries remain the same. At this point let’s examine the situation through what is widely known as ‘The Gerasimov Doctrine’, first published in the Military Industrial Courier.
How To Fight A War Without Fighting A War
The Doctrine is named after General Valery Gerasimov, the current Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces. It suggests methods of conducting political warfare to reach a strategic goal by mixing traditional military tactics with diplomatic, economic and cultural pressure. Molly McKew for Politico:
Political warfare is meant to achieve specific political outcomes favorable to the Kremlin: it is preferred to physical conflict because it is cheap and easy. The Kremlin has many notches in its belt in this category, some of which have been attributed, many likely not. It’s a mistake to see this campaign in the traditional terms of political alliances: rarely has the goal been to install overtly pro-Russian governments. Far more often, the goal is simply to replace Western-style democratic regimes with illiberal, populist, or nationalist ones.
The doctrine has also been studied by Dr Mark Galeotti, who highlights that the unconventional approaches and unique circumstances of a conflict can lead to opportunities to unbalance the enemy, forcing them to expend extra effort and resources to counter movements.
The information space opens wide asymmetrical possibilities for reducing the fighting potential of the enemy
The more confusion that can be created over an issue, the more an opponent is forced to react. The longer that the confusion can remain at the top of a news cycle, the more resources need to be used to counter the attacks. In an added twist, part of the approach can be denying that this approach is being used!
Back To Eurovision
If you decide to look at both sides of the Yuliya Samoylova situation through the prism of this doctrine, perhaps the manoeuvrings of both sides become clearer. The Russian government has found another way to wage war by proxy through its singer, while the Ukrainian government has found a way to exert power over Russia through the blacklist and Samoylova.
The doctrine can apply no matter which side you believe is in the right. And stuck in the middle of this media powered non-linear warfare is the EBU and the Eurovision Song Contest.
The stakes for both Ukraine and Russia are of far higher priority than ensuring the smooth running of the Song Contest. The geopolitics of the region are not – no matter the good intentions of the Contest – going to be swayed by the needs of a three-minute song.
Finding a solution that is acceptable to all sides is going to be an immense challenge for the EBU, and whatever solution is found will need to be seen as ‘an acceptable victory’ to both Ukraine and Russia both on the wider world stage and inside each country’s respective borders. The clock is ticking and I suspect that it is too late for an accommodating answer to be found for this year’s Song Contest.