YEREVAN (Azatutyun.am)—In what Russia called an “extremely hostile” move, Armenia’s leadership on Thursday took another step towards accepting jurisdiction of an international court that issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin in March.
The Armenian parliament’s committee on legal affairs gave the green light for parliamentary ratification by of the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court (ICC). This means that the National Assembly controlled by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s party should debate and vote on it next week.
The decision came amid a continuing deterioration of Armenia’s relations with Russia, 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.
Pashinyan reaffirmed the ratification plans on September 24 as he blamed Moscow for Azerbaijan’s latest military offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh and effectively accused it seeking to turn Armenia into a Russian province. He claimed that signing up to the Rome Statute would help to safeguard Armenia’s independence.
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. Pro-government members of the parliament committee echoed it as they backed a corresponding decision proposed by Pashinyan’s government.
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. The ICC endorsed those accusations when it issued the arrest warrant for Putin in March.
Independent legal experts believe that the ratification will commit the Armenian authorities to arresting Putin and extraditing him to The Hague tribunal if he visits the South Caucasus country. Yeghishe Kirakosyan, who represents the Armenian government in international legal bodies, denied this during a meeting of the parliament panel boycotted by opposition lawmakers.
Kirakosyan claimed that Putin and other heads of state enjoy immunity from arrest and that the Rome Statute allows countries to sign bilateral agreements to ignore ICC arrest warrants.
Yerevan offered to sign such a deal with Moscow in April, he said, adding that the Russian side has still not responded to the proposal.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he is “not familiar” with the proposal cited by Kirakosian. Armenia’s ratification of the ICC treaty would be a move “extremely hostile” towards Russia, said Peskov.
“Moscow hopes that there will be sober-minded forces in the National Assembly of Armenia that will not rubber-stamp a decision that is obviously toxic for Armenian-Russian relations,” the Russian Foreign Ministry warned, for its part. The “political decision” to ratify the treaty is unacceptable to Moscow, it told the RIA Novosti news agency.
The ministry already warned on Monday that Pashinyan is “making a huge mistake by deliberately trying to destroy the multifaceted and centuries-old ties between Armenia and Russia.”
Armenia was among 120 countries that signed the Rome Statute, in 1998. But its parliament did not rush to ratify the document. In 2004, the country’s Constitutional Court ruled that the treaty runs counter to several provisions of the Armenian constitution which guarantee national sovereignty over judicial affairs.
Pashinyan’s government decided last December to ask the court to again look into the Rome Statute and determine its conformity with the constitution that has been twice amended since 2004. The court ruled in March that the Rome Statute conforms to the amended constitution. The ruling came one week after the ICC issued the arrest warrant for Putin.