Source AP ©

Eurovision song contest becomes another triumph for Russia

In sports and pop music, Russia is on a roll - and its leaders made the most of it Sunday.

A winning performance in the Eurovision Song Contest by singer Dima Bilan followed a series of sports victories that have fed the resurgent country's increasing self-confidence.

President Dmitry Medvedev reached Bilan on a mobile phone in the middle of the night to congratulate the singer, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sent him a telegram calling the victory "one more important triumph for all of Russia," officials said.

Putin just finished eight years as president during which an oil-fueled economic recovery has boosted Russia's clout and put the swagger back into its step.

"Russia is the favorite now, it's just tearing everybody up - in basketball, football, hockey, and Eurovision!" said Evgeni Plushenko, the Olympic champion figure skater and now a politician, who helped Bilan to the prize by pirouetting on artificial ice during the performance in Belgrade, Serbia.

In the past month, Russian teams have won the European basketball championship, the world ice hockey championship and soccer's UEFA Cup.

Putin's successor, Medvedev, was not to be left out of the celebrations.

He called Bilan shortly after the singer brought Russia its first-ever title in the glitzy annual contest, the Kremlin said.

State-run Rossiya television showed what it said was one side of the conversation: Bilan, a flag-waving Plushenko and others sitting on the back seat of a bus and shouting "Russia! Russia! Russia!" into a mobile phone.

"Thank you," Bilan said more quietly into the phone.

"I've never spoken to the president in my life, and I don't know how it's done, but it's very, very pleasant for me, and I think for the whole team sitting in the back of this bus," he said.

"It's so great that the prize is coming to Russia," Medvedev said, according to the presidential press service. He promised that Russia would do a first-class job hosting the contest next year.

One detail that detracts from the victory as a celebration of Russia: Bilan sang in English.

But state-run Channel One television approvingly noted that Bilan gave a rendition in Russian for its viewers during the post-prize festivities, and showed part of it on the news at noon Sunday.