Ignoring stern warnings from Russia, Armenia’s parliament voted on Tuesday to ratify the founding treaty of an international court that issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin in March.
The decision initiated by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s government is bound to add to its mounting tensions with Moscow which is increasingly calling into question the long-standing alliance of the two nations.
The Russian Foreign Ministry listed earlier this month Yerevan’s plans to ratify the treaty, known as the Rome Statute, among “a series of unfriendly steps” taken by Pashinyan’s administration. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned last week that Armenia’s acceptance of jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) would be seen as an “extremely hostile” move.
The main official rationale for the ratification is to bring Azerbaijan to justice for its “war crimes” and to prevent more Azerbaijani attacks on Armenia. Yeghishe Kirakosian, who represents the Armenian government in international tribunals, repeated it during a parliament debate that preceded the vote.
Kirakosian again insisted that Putin will not risk arrest and extradition to the ICC if he visits Armenia. The Rome Statute allows countries to sign bilateral agreements to ignore ICC arrest warrants, he claimed, adding that Yerevan has offered to sign such a deal with Moscow.
Opposition politicians and other critics counter that Azerbaijan is not a party to the Rome Statute and would therefore ignore any pro-Armenian ruling by the ICC. They say the real purpose of ratifying the treaty is to drive another wedge between Russia and Armenia and score points in the West which has accused Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine.
Predictably, 22 lawmakers from the opposition Hayastan and Pativ Unem alliances voted against the ratification. But 60 other members of the National Assembly representing Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party voted for it.
Moscow was quick to react to the vote through Yury Vorobyov, the deputy speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament. Vorobyov described it as an “unfriendly step” directed at Putin.
Peskov criticized the “incorrect decision” later in the day. The ratification raised “additional questions” that were “passed on to the Armenia side in advance,” he told reporters in Moscow.
The Kremlin spokesman also dismissed the Armenian proposal to sign a bilateral treaty related to the ICC, saying it is not clear how Yerevan can “put in place special conditions, exceptions.”
Asked whether Putin will avoid visiting Armenia in the future, Peskov said: “Of course, we would not want the president to have to renounce visits to Armenia for some reason.”
Putin did not attend a summit of the BRICS nations held in South Africa in August. South Africa is a signatory to the ICC treaty.