Rome Statute acceptance: Implications for Armenia, Russia, and Putin
by Can Burgaz
In the wake of Azerbaijan's military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh, known as Artsakh in Armenian, and the migration of Armenians, Armenia finds itself at a geopolitical crossroads. The decision to accept the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court signals Armenia's intent to address alleged war crimes and adds complexity to its developing relations with Russia. Prime Minister Pashinyan's pursuit of a more diversified security strategy, the unexpected military exercises with the United States, and the quest to strengthen ties with the West underscore Armenia's efforts to recalibrate its position in a rapidly changing regional landscape. The implications of this transition are far-reaching, raising questions about Armenia's future path, the role of Russia, and the support it can garner from Western allies.
Following Azerbaijan's military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh, which led to the forced migration of the Armenian population to Armenia and increased pressure on Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan, the geopolitical landscape in the region has undergone significant shifts. Russia's perceived indifference during this operation and Pashinyan's strained relations with Russia have further underscored these changing dynamics. The recent decision by Armenia to accept the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court has introduced an additional layer of complexity, with speculation arising about the potential for Russian President Putin's arrest during a visit to Armenia.
Why did Armenia accept the Rome Statute?
Historically, Armenia and Russia have maintained strategic relations, with Armenia relying on Russia for its defense. However, the military conflict started by Azerbaijan in 2020 and subsequent developments have prompted the Armenian administration to explore ways to reduce its dependency on Russia while not entirely severing ties. This strategic recalibration raises questions about Armenia's future path in a region where it holds a presence with a population of three million.
The International Criminal Court, in The Hague, Netherlands, is crucial in investigating and prosecuting individuals accused of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Established by the Rome Statute in 1998, the court began its operations in 2002. Notably, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Putin following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It is worth mentioning that Russia withdrew from the Rome Statute in 2016 despite its prior signing.
The question of Putin's potential arrest when visiting other countries remains complex and contentious. Acting upon such an arrest warrant depends on the host country's discretion. Putin's absence from the BRICS summit in South Africa was a measure to avoid potential legal disputes and the risk of arrest.
Claiming that Azerbaijan committed war crimes, the Armenian government accepted the Rome Statute to take steps and facilitate arms imports. However, this step indirectly raises the question of implementing the arrest warrant for Putin upon his entry into the country. Although the Russian side reacted harshly on this issue, the Armenian administration came face to face with Russia by deciding to accept the Rome Statute. The decision was taken by 60 to 22 in the Armenian Parliament. The decision will come into force within 60 days after the President of Armenia signs it.
Russia reacted to the decision. “We would not want the president to refuse visits to Armenia,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday. “Armenia is our ally, a friendly country, our partner. But we will have additional questions for the current leadership of Armenia … We still believe it is a wrong decision.”
Prime Minister Pashinyan has underscored that Armenia's acceptance of the Rome Statute is not intended as a direct affront to Russia but as a measure to safeguard the country's interests under international law, particularly in its ongoing dispute with Azerbaijan.
A strategic shift in foreign policy?
In the wake of Azerbaijan's territorial gains and the significant migration of Armenians, Prime Minister Pashinyan has openly acknowledged the need to reassess Armenia's defense strategy, which had heavily relied on Russia. He pointed out that Armenia's security architecture had been overwhelmingly linked to Russia, including arms procurement.
However, changing geopolitical dynamics, such as Russia's involvement in the Ukraine conflict and its own need for arms, have prompted Armenia to rethink its strategic posture.
Armenia's unexpected joint military exercise with the United States in September, known as Eagle Partner 2023, aimed to enhance interoperability in international peacekeeping missions and share best control and tactical communication practices.
Journalist Robert Ananyan has argued that Armenia's acceptance of the Rome Statute shows its willingness to strengthen ties with the West and adopt Western values. He believes Russia's ability to leverage Armenia's security vulnerability to maintain influence may diminish. Ananyan has called for increased support from the United States and the European Union in security, economy, energy, and defense to facilitate Armenia's pivot toward the West.
Armenia's decision to embrace the Rome Statute represents a step further away from Russia as the Armenian administration seeks to diversify its strategic partnerships. However, the high military threat posed by Azerbaijan raises questions about how Armenia will navigate this transition. The extent of support the West will provide Armenia in this developing geopolitical landscape remains to be determined