Armenia’s parliament on Tuesday voted to join the international criminal court (ICC), obliging the former Soviet republic to arrest Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, if he were to visit the country.
The decision will further strain relations with Moscow, Armenia’s traditional ally. Ties are already badly damaged over the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine and Azerbaijan’s recapture of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Kremlin last week warned Armenia that its decision to join the ICC, which has issued an arrest warrant for Putin for overseeing the abduction of Ukrainian children, was “extremely hostile”.
Armenia has tried to reassure Russia that it is only addressing what it says are war crimes committed by Azerbaijan in the long-running conflict with its neighbour, and is not aiming at Moscow.
Russia, with a military base in Armenia, has long been its security guarantor, including managing tensions over Nagorno-Karabakh, but as Azerbaijan launched its offensive on the mountainous breakaway region, Moscow made clear its troops had no intention of intervening.
As Azerbaijani troops surrounded Nagrono-Karabkah, Armenia’s prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, criticised Moscow and questioned the effectiveness of the 2,000 Russian troops deployed since 2020 to keep the peace in the region.
In a speech last weekend to mark Armenia’s independence day, Pashinyan said “the security systems and the allies we have relied on for many years” were “ineffective”, and that the “instruments of the Armenian-Russian strategic partnership” were “not enough to ensure Armenia’s external security”.
Richard Giragosian, the head of the Regional Studies Centre in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, said the country’s decision to ratify the founding treaty of the ICC was the latest sign that Pashinyan was attempting to reduce Moscow’s influence.
“The ICC ratification by Armenia is mainly motivated by its desire to prepare legal challenges against Azerbaijan. But it also sends a clear message to Moscow,” he said. “It is part of a consistent escalation in measures taken by Armenia to stand up for itself and challenge its relationship with Moscow … Yerevan is seeking to diversify its security.”
Last month, Yerevan hosted US troops for an unprecedented joint military exercise. It has also sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine, delivered personally by Pashinyan’s wife, Anna Hakobyan.
France’s foreign minister, Catherine Colonna, flew to Armenia on Tuesday to assess the country’s urgent needs as it faced an influx of refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh and the risk of Azerbaijani military operations on its territory, diplomats said.
Putin’s inability to travel to Armenia, a country he last visited in 2022, is a glaring symbol of his waning influence in the South Caucasus.
The Russian leader skipped the Brics summit in South Africa in August amid speculation he could be detained under the ICC warrant.
“Russia’s role as a provider of security in its near-abroad has been severely diminished as a result of its disastrous war against Ukraine,” Alexander Gabuev, the director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Centre, in Berlin, wrote in the Financial Times recently. “The destabilising effects will continue to be felt across the vast Eurasian landmass.”