Russian singer Dima Bilan won the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest late Saturday, May 24, in Belgrade with the song "Believe" in the first triumph for Russia in more than half a century of the competition, according to Deutsche Welle.

Ukraine placed second with Ani Lorak and the song "Shady Lady," and Greece was third with Kalomira`s song "Secret Combination." The 2007 winners and hosts Serbia were sixth with Jelena Tomasevic`s song "Oro."

Belgrade, which hosted the largest-ever Eurovision Song Contest of 43 nations, was praised for flawless organization, both in the packed, 16,000-seat arena and in central Belgrade, where thousands of people watched the contest on a huge video screen.

Russia reportedly invested 10 million euros ($15.7 million) in Bilan`s shot at winning. The singer was accompanied on stage by a Stradivari-playing violinist and Olympic figure skater Evgeni Plushenko, who danced on his skates on a small round of what looked like ice, but was actually plastic.

The "voice of Russia" had been the favorite to win in Belgrade, according to British bookmaker Ladbrokes which gave him 3- to-1 odds.

Big purses guarantee a slot

Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, Georgia, Greece, Iceland, Israel, Latvia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Turkey, Romania, Russia and Ukraine qualified through the two semi-finals of the mammoth show.

In line with new rules introduced this year, the "big four" -- Britain, France, Germany and Spain -- who bear the largest part of financing the competition, qualified directly, as did last year`s winner and host, Serbia. The "big four" were also among the low scorers: Britain, Germany and Poland shared last place with 14 points, while France scored 47 and Spain 55. Russia won 272 points.

The practice of awarding top points -- 12, 10 and eight for the first three places -- to countries from the region, which favors Balkan, Nordic and former Soviet countries, largely continued in Saturday`s contest.

German Eurovision TV commentator Peter Urban suggested, as he has in the past, that it might be time to again revise the voting procedure to hinder countries from handing their points to their neighbors.

Points are awarded to the performers by television viewers, who vote by telephone or text message. They may not cast votes for their own country.

The Eurovision Song Contest has been held annually for 53 years. It is watched by more than 100 million people worldwide.

DW staff / DPA