After His Power Grab Comes a Surprise Turn: 'I Was Wrong'

Armenia's leader, a Putin ally, abruptly resigns amid protests
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 24, 2018 10:20 AM CDT
A Grab for Power, Then a Surprise About-Face
Armenian protest leader Nikol Pashinyan, second left, holds a bottle of a sparkling wine celebrating Armenian Prime Minister's Serzh Sargsyan's resignation in Yerevan, Armenia, on Monday.   (Grigor Yepremyan/PAN Photo via AP)

A surprising turn of events this week has focused attention on the former Soviet state of Armenia: There, longtime leader Serzh Sargsyan abruptly resigned on Monday amid protests accusing him of a blatant power grab. "I was wrong," Sargsyan, an ally of Vladimir Putin, told the nation. As the BBC explains, Sargsyan had served as Armenia's president from 2008 until term limits forced him from the post this month. His solution? He took advantage of a referendum back in 2015 that transferred most power from the president to a prime minister—a vote critics say Sargsyan himself engineered so he could remain in control by switching offices when his presidential term ended, drawing parallels to Putin. Sure enough, as soon as his term wrapped up, the parliament voted him into the prime minister's post with no opposition, reports the New York Times.

"The way that they proceeded was so arrogant that it triggered a rather intense reaction that nobody expected," says the head of an Armenian think tank. Protesters took to the streets for days, and things came to a head Sunday after Sargsyan walked out of televised talks with opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan when Pashinyan demanded his resignation. Pashinyan was detained, and protests intensified—and they likely would have gotten worse Tuesday, when the nation marks the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks. Perhaps to ward that off, Sargsyan stepped down, saying that Pashinyan "was right." A Sargsyan ally has assumed the prime minister's post for now. A Washington Post editorial sees all this as bad news for Putin, along with "the thuggish, corruption-ridden, and economically failed model that is Putinism." (More Armenia stories.)

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