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Why Didn’t Putin Interfere in Armenia’s Velvet Revolution?

His Support for Authoritarianism Abroad Has Limits

Supporters of Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan react after his bid to be interim prime minister was blocked by the parliament during a rally in central Yerevan, Armenia, May 2018.  Gleb Garanich / REUTERS

This April, Serzh Sargsyan, the pro-Russian autocratic leader of Armenia, confronted massive opposition protests reminiscent of the wave of “color revolutions” that took place in eastern Europe in the first decade of this century. Like past political revolutions in Serbia in 2000, Georgia in 2003, and Ukraine in 2004, the protests in Armenia shut down the capital and drew heavily on disenchanted youth as well as humor to challenge entrenched autocratic elites.

Led by the former journalist and political prisoner Nikol Pashinyan, demonstrators sought to unseat Sargsyan and his Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), which have dominated Armenian politics for nearly two decades. Sargsyan was first elected president in 2008, succeeding Robert Kocharian, who came to power in 1998. To sidestep Sargsyan’s impending term limit, the RPA orchestrated a transition from a presidential to a parliamentary system with the intention of selecting Sargsyan as prime minister. Sargsyan’s election to the position on April 17,

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