How new Georgian government could strengthen its pro-Russian course

Wednesday, 31 January 2024

Ahead of the parliamentary elections in Georgia, scheduled for October, the ruling party Georgian Dream has initiated a massive reformatting, marked by the return of the party's founder and former prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, to politics.

On 29 January, initially oppositional and later pro-government Georgian media reported the decision of the Georgian Dream political council, made a few days earlier, about the resignation of the head of the government.

The reason for these changes is not just about the upcoming elections. Read more in the analysis by Yurii Panchenko, the editor of European Pravda – A more pro-Russian Georgia: Why change of government in Tbilisi will only accelerate rapprochement with Moscow.

The candidacy for the new prime minister will be most likely announced on 1 February at the party congress of Georgian Dream.

Georgian media, however, have been almost certain about the candidate for the new head of the government from the beginning. According to their information, the leadership of the ruling party will conduct a reshuffle – Irakli Garibashvili will lead the party and bring it to the elections, while the current party chairman, Irakli Kobakhidze, will become the prime minister.

What consequences will the replacement of the Prime Minister have in Georgia?

It certainly depends on the successor's candidacy. If we trust Georgian media though, unequivocal in their forecasts, there is a significant difference, and mainly for Ukraine.

Irakli Garibashvili, while serving as prime minister, adhered strictly to the party line. He sharply attacked the opposition, responded to criticism of Georgia in the EU, and during his premiership, Tbilisi began to turn towards Russia.

He was not openly anti-Ukrainian or pro-Russian. He tried to maintain a balance until the end.

On the other hand, Irakli Kobakhidze, who has the highest chances of becoming the new prime minister, can be called a "pro-Russian hawk" within the Georgian Dream.

There are all reasons to believe that such a prime minister will only strengthen Georgia's course towards rapprochement with Russia.

Even if this directly contradicts Georgia's new status as a candidate for EU membership.

It is challenging for Kyiv. At least, it can be predicted that a new Ukrainian ambassador will not appear in Tbilisi anytime soon.

In addition to the replacement of the prime minister, the pro-Russian vector of Georgia may be strengthened by changes in key ministers. According to Georgian media, several ministers, including the heads of the Foreign Ministry and Defence Ministry, will lose their positions.

An alternative version is that the position of the prime minister will be taken by Uta Ivanishvili, the son of the honourary president of Georgian Dream.

In this context, the scenario that Bidzina Ivanishvili is running for the presidency looks highly likely. The presidential elections will also take place following the parliamentary elections in Georgia. Moreover, the head of the state will be elected not by direct elections but by the parliament.

Both candidates, however, for the prime minister of Georgia are united in that under their leadership, Georgia will almost certainly continue to move away from the West.

Brussels should ask a crucial question – the status of EU candidate imposes additional obligations on Georgia regarding synchronising its foreign policy with the EU's.

For Ukraine, which is most interested in preserving Georgia's Western course, it is worth urging the EU to respond more harshly to pro-Russian movements in Tbilisi.

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