The Georgian parliament approved a reshuffled government taking office, to be led by Irakli Kobakhidze, former chair of the ruling Georgian Dream party, according to Politico.
Kobakhidze replaces Irakli Garibashvili, who unexpectedly announced his resignation as prime minister on January 29.
A strong critic of Western governments, Kobakhidze has raised eyebrows in Brussels for blaming the EU and the U.S. for wanting to drag Georgia into Russia’s war on Ukraine.
His continuous attacks against MEPs while Georgia has been waiting to be granted EU membership candidate status have been perceived as an attempt to compromise Georgia’s bid to join the bloc.
Kobakhidze has been a staunch advocate of a bill on foreign agents, similar to the legislation adopted by Vladimir Putin’s Russia, that would allow the government to tighten control over civil groups and media funded from abroad. The bill was dropped in March after mass pro-European protests in Tbilisi.
Although Kobakhidze’s appointment is not expected to bring major policy changes domestically, the opposition fears that the appointment of a critic of the West as PM could be detrimental to the country’s European aspirations.
Although former Prime Minister Garibashvili said he was resigning because of his party’s “internal democratic principle of rotation,” it is widely believed he bowed to pressure from billionaire former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili who returned to Georgian politics in December as honorary chair of the ruling party.
It is widely believed that Ivanishvili exerts total influence over the ruling party.
Often dubbed a “Russian oligarch” due to the wealth he amassed in Russia, Ivanishvili is often seen domestically as well as internationally as a stumbling block on Georgia’s path to EU membership.
The ruling Georgian Dream party is seeking a fourth consecutive election victory. The reshuffling of the government is widely seen as the beginning of Ivanishvili’s attempt to secure victory in parliamentary elections this year.