The Armenian authorities in Yerevan have taken yet another step towards ratifying the Rome Statute, which is the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Armenian Parliament’s committee on legal affairs has given the green light for the National Assembly’s ratification and the debating and voting on it is expected to take place next week – the Parliament is controlled by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s party, and Pashinyan has been signaling a foreign policy shift away from Moscow. If the ratification takes place, this would mean Yerevan would have to arrest Russian President Vladimir Putin if he were to ever visit the country again.
On March 17, the ICC issued a controversial arrest warrant for Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights (of Russia) and for Putin. The highly politicized content of such a ruling can be fathomed from the fact that US President Joe Biden made it a point to support the court’s decision – even though Biden’s own country is not a state party to the Rome Statute of the ICC (which is also not part of the United Nations). Some of the US highest officials in fact have a history of hostile statements and actions against the court. The ICC has already been described as a “kangaroo court” by no other than former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – at the time, then President Donal Trump had authorized sanctions against an ICC investigation into American war crimes in Afghanistan. Washington even threatened to arrest the court’s judges over the same issue. Moreover, back in 2002, US President George W. Bush even signed into law the so-called “Hague Invasion Act”, which authorized the use of military force to liberate any US citizen being held by the ICC.
The Western overall hypocrisy on the issue is blatant – and pretty much the same thing could also be said of the unprecedented sanctions against Russia (which, even so, have largely backfired) and of the ongoing wave of Russophobia and neo-Mccarthyism – no international campaign to “cancel”, boycott or sanction McDonald’s, Disney or any major American oil companies took place when Washington bombed, invaded, or destroyed the countries of Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan, to name just a few. According to British historian Stuart Laycock, the US has invaded or gotten militarily involved with 84 countries (of the 194 recognized by the UN).
The ongoing political discussion in Yerevan about ratifying the Rome Statute should be seen as part of this larger context and could in fact signal major changes pertaining to the West Asian country’s historical bilateral relations with Moscow. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has described Armenia’s potential ratification of the ICC treaty as a move that would be “extremely hostile” to Russia.
Sergei Markov, Director of the Institute of Political Studies, in a conversation with a Vestnik Kavkaza correspondent, said that “no matter what they say now about the non-impact of their actions on our relations, recognition of the jurisdiction of the ICC is an anti-Russian initiative of Yerevan. Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan wants to turn the republic into an enemy of Russia and enter into an alliance with Moscow’s opponents – the United States and France. To do this, he must take hostile steps, and the whole story with the Rome Statute is one of these steps.”
The West has largely benefitted from The Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in the disputed border area of Nagorno-Karabakh. Since 2020, about 2000 Russian peacekeepers have been deployed to the Armenian-Azerbaijani border area to enforce a ceasefire deal and guarantee safe transit.
Besides such security ties, following Western sanctions, new Eurasian trade trends have opened new opportunities for countries such as Armenia itself – although Armenia’s trade with the European Union today outweighs that with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), Armenian political elites have traditionally thought of their country as a potential bridge between West and East. Armenia is also a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), an Eurasian military alliance.
The chaos in the Lachin corridor since December, however, opened a window of opportunity for the US to increase its influence in the region by offering mediation. Washington has certainly been eyeing Central Asia and the South Caucasus, and Armenia plays a strategic role for the US. Thus, much has been talked about an Armenian “retreat” back into the Western Atlantic camp. The reality is quite more complex as Europe has been turning to Azerbaijan, Armenia’s main rival, for energy. Yerevan in fact has also played a significant role in helping Moscow navigate Western sanctions in such a manner that mutually benefits both states, increasing bilateral economic and trade cooperation. Things could change, though.
Given the ICC’s controversial and weakened international role, it is unlikely it would help Armenia increase pressure on Azerbaijan. On September 24, Pashinyan reaffirmed the ratification plans anyway, his reasoning being that it would suit Armenia’s interests by giving it tools to bring Azerbaijan to justice for war crimes, thereby preventing further Azerbaijani attacks on his country. The Armenian opposition is demanding Pashinyan resign over what is being described as a defeat in Nagorno-Karabakh and the real risk of losing territory. The country now faces a political crisis and polarization, with observers from both sides voicing their concerns about a coup. Pashinyan’s Western shift seems a lot like a desperate move, considering the overall situation.
As much of the world is increasingly alienated by Western “alignmentism” and its new Cold War mentality, any Armenian “Western shift” would be contrary to the current trends of non-alignment, multi-alignment, and “strategic autonomy” that even France and Germany have been proposing. It would be detrimental to Armenia’s own interests.
Uriel Araujo, researcher with a focus on international and ethnic conflicts