The Armenian Parliament on October 3 adopted a bill ratifying the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court by a vote of 60 to 22.
The largely figurehead president, Vahagn Khachaturyan, is expected to sign the bill and finalize the ratification in the coming days and make the country the 124th member state of the Statute.
Armenia's ostensible strategic partner Russia has for months warned against the move. The ICC has an outstanding arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for alleged war crimes in Ukraine, meaning that if Putin were to visit Armenia he could theoretically face arrest.
Just days before the vote, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov warned that Moscow would perceive the ratification as an "extremely hostile" move towards Russia, and the Russian Foreign Ministry said it would have "most negative consequences" for the countries' bilateral relations.
Armenia has long said joining the Rome Statute is not a move against Russia but rather conditioned by its own security interests. Though it seems like a remote prospect at this point, many in Armenia hope to one day bring charges against Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev for war crimes against the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh.
A former chief prosecutor of the ICC, Luis Moreno Ocampo, said in August that Azerbaijan's then-ongoing blockade of the region amounted to an act of "genocide." (That was before Azerbaijan's lightning offensive on September 19-20 led to the exodus of nearly all of the region's Armenian population.)
In March, the ICC issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin for committing the "war crime of unlawful deportation of population (children) and that of unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation." As per the ICC regulations, member states are bound to detain Putin if he arrives in the respective countries.
But Armenian officials have been at pains to assure Russia that there are mechanisms to bypass the requirement to detain Putin if he came to visit.
"I don't think there can be talk of arrest. The solutions, which are based on paragraph 2, article 96 of the Rome Statute, have been proposed to our Russian partners. It implies the signing of a bilateral agreement, which allows the creation of certain guarantees for the concerns that some partner countries might have. The text was presented months ago, and we are waiting for our partners' proposal," Yeghishe Kirakosyan, the Armenian prime minister's representative on international legal affairs, said on September 28.
After the vote, Peskov was more measured in his criticism lamenting the "incorrect step" by the Armenian parliament while adding that there is still a lot uniting the two countries.
"At the same time, of course, we will have additional questions for the current leadership of Armenia," Peskov added in reference to Moscow's thinly veiled desire to see the ouster of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan's government.
Indeed, the Rome Statute is only one of a litany of points of tension between the two strategic allies. Armenia was unhappy with the performance of the 2,000-strong Russian peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh following Armenia's defeat in the 2020 Second Karabakh War. Yerevan alleged the peacekeepers failed to fulfill their obligations to protect Karabakh's Armenian population.
Armenia applied for the military assistance of Russia and the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) during Azerbaijan's September 2022 attack on Armenia, but received none. The Armenian MFA accused Moscow of "absolute indifference" during the attacks on the country when Azerbaijan captured territories inside Armenia.
In a new turn following Azerbaijan's complete takeover of Karabakh, Prime Minister Pashinyan was obviously referencing Russia when he said: "Some of our partners are increasingly making efforts to expose our security vulnerabilities, putting at risk not only our external, but also internal security and stability, while violating all norms of etiquette and correctness in diplomatic and interstate relations, including obligations assumed under treaties."
He also said that ratifying the Rome Statute was necessary in part because the security guarantees Armenia is supposed to enjoy as a member of the CSTO were "not effective." Armenia has recently refused to participate in military exercises and meetings with allies in the CSTO.
Meanwhile, as the Armenian opposition staged protests recently demanding Pashinyan's resignation, Kremlin propagandists encouraged Armenians to join in lest they "become complicit in an Armenian genocide."
Russian officials and media have actively targeted Nikol Pashinyan of late, accusing him of "selling out" Nagorno-Karabakh and "flirting" with the West in opposition to Russia.
In a statement on October 2, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that if Armenia decides to leave CSTO, it will be its "sovereign" decision, but that he hopes "that the ties that have existed for centuries between the Russian people […] and the Armenian people cannot be destroyed by any temporary administration."