Armenia. The run-up to the presidential election was dramatic with assassination attempts on the opposition candidate and former Soviet dissident Paruyr Hayrikyan. He was shot dead near his home in Yerevan but avoided life-threatening injuries.
According to Countryaah, Hayrikyan opted for Armenia to approach the EU and be vigilant against the Russian Federation, and he accused “a foreign security service”, indirectly the Russian Federation, of the assassination attempt. Later, another presidential candidate was convicted of his refusal to stand behind the attack.
The election was held in February and won as expected by the incumbent President, Serzh Sarkisian, who pushed a hard nationalist line in the conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan over the Armenian-controlled area of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Sarkisian received just over 58% of the vote before the US-born former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian with just over 37%. Prominent opposition politicians, who were considered more likely to challenge the president, refrained from running for a protest, saying they felt the election was not open and democratic.
The European Security Organization, the OSCE, believed that the election was better than the 2008 election, but felt that there was no real competition. A local observer group noted hundreds of cases of irregularities.
The opposition claimed electoral fraud with the purchase of votes and repeated voting and demanded that the election be redone. Thousands of opposition supporters demonstrated, but the Constitutional Court rejected all formal protests. Hovannisian hunger strike without results.
After four years of negotiations with Brussels, Armenia appeared to be moving towards an association and free trade agreement with the EU. At the same time, the country was keen on military cooperation with Moscow as a guarantee in the conflict with Azerbaijan, and as Armenia approached the EU, the country was subjected to pressure from Moscow.
In March, President Sarkisian met his Russian colleague Vladimir Putin, who wanted Armenia in a customs union with the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan and Belarus. In the Russian-led Union, no demands were made for changed laws, but agreements with the EU require adaptation of Armenia’s laws and business rules. According to Brussels, Armenia cannot be a member of the Russian-led customs union and have agreements with the EU.
During the summer, anti-Russian protests occurred in the capital Yerevan, aimed at raising gas prices, against Russian arms sales to Azerbaijan and against the humiliation of an Armenian brought to trial in Moscow. Public opinion seemed to be swinging to the benefit of the EU.
But in September, President Sarkisian announced that Armenia would join the Russian-led customs union. The EU expressed great disappointment, and Sweden’s Foreign Minister said that Armenia was subjected to “brutal pressure” and “economic warfare” from the Russian Federation, which threatened with more expensive gas this winter.
The political opposition in Armenia objected to the president’s decision, demanding that Parliament and the people should speak. Outside the presidential palace, protesters scanned: “No return to the Soviet Union” and “Away with Russia”.
Opposition leader Hovannisian accused President Sarkisian of putting his personal political considerations before the nation’s best and demanding his departure. According to a political analyst, a key factor in Sarkisian’s decision was that the Russian Federation promised to guarantee the security of Nagorno-Karabakh.