Armenia’s parliament has approved a key step towards joining the International Criminal Court (ICC), a move that is set to escalate tensions with the ex-Soviet country’s traditional ally, Russia.
Lawmakers ratified the ICC’s founding Rome Statute on Tuesday, subjecting itself to the jurisdiction of the court in The Hague and vexing Russia, whose president the world court wants to arrest.
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A spokeswoman for the Yerevan parliament said 60 deputies voted to ratify the Rome Statute of the ICC and 22 voted against.
In March, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin over war crimes in Ukraine, and the illegal deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia.
The ICC members are expected to make the arrest if the Russian leader sets foot on their territory.
The vote illustrated the chasm between Moscow and Yerevan, which has been growing due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, and Russia’s inaction as Azerbaijan recaptured Nagorno-Karabakh, a region controlled for three decades by ethnic Armenians, most of whom have now fled.
The Kremlin said the decision was “incorrect” and that it would have questions for Armenia’s “current leadership”, which should instead look to its established allies, not least Moscow.
“We would not want the president to have to refuse visits to Armenia for some reason,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday.
“Armenia is our ally, a friendly country, our partner … But at the same time, we will have additional questions for the current leadership of Armenia … We still believe it is a wrong decision.”
Moscow has voiced increasing frustration with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who has publicly said landlocked Armenia’s policy of solely relying on Russia to guarantee its security was a mistake, and pointedly hosted joint manoeuvres with US forces.
Armenia’s sense that Russia has let it down has been sharpened by Azerbaijan’s seizure of Nagorno-Karabakh, which followed a nine-month blockade of food and fuel supplies to the enclave that Russian peacekeepers did nothing to relieve.
Armenia said it had discussed its ICC plans with Russia, after Moscow warned in March of “serious consequences”. It will take 60 days for the ratification to come into force.
Yerevan has said its move addresses what it says are war crimes committed by Azerbaijan in a long-running conflict with Armenia, although ICC jurisdiction will not be retroactive.