- Irakli Kobakhidze has been nominated for the position of Prime Minister of Georgia, succeeding Irakli Garibashvili. Influential Georgian Dream Party founder Bidzina Ivanishvili’s involvement has been cited despite denials, hinting at continued party control over government appointments.
- The Georgian public and opposition have criticized Kobakhidze for aligning with Moscow’s preferences and opposing so-called Western interference.
- Kobakhidze emphasizes strategic partnership with China alongside Euro-Atlantic integration. He justifies this dual approach by praising China’s economic prowess and stability, raising concerns about Georgia’s turn towards Europe.
On February 1, the congress of the ruling Georgian Dream Party nominated its chairman, Irakli Kobakhidze, as the new Prime Minister of Georgia (Facebook.com/GeorgianDreamOfficial, February 1). The highest political position in the country became vacant after the country’s former Prime Minister, Irakli Garibashvili, who had held this position since 2021, suddenly announced his resignation on January 29. This transition occurred two days before Garibashivili was elected as the new chairman of the ruling party in the place of Irakli Kobakhidze. The country’s informal leader, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, denies his involvement in personnel changes in the government (Netgazeti.ge, February 1). The new government leadership, however, was established shortly after Ivanishvili returned to politics on December 30 and took the position of honorary chairman of the ruling party (Facebook.com/GeorgianDreamOfficial, December 30, 2023).
Kobakhidze’s political career began in 2015 when he was an executive secretary of the ruling party. Since 2016, he has served as chairman of the country’s parliament. In 2019, however, he was forced to resign due to widespread mass protests (Youtube.com, June 20, 2019). While he was the speaker of parliament, he allowed the meeting room of the Georgian parliament to be made available for the 26th General Assembly of the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy in June 2019. The protests occurred because the chairman of the assembly, Sergey Gavrilov, a member of the Russian State Duma from the Communist Party who has been labeled an enemy of Georgia, addressed was present at this event. Protestors criticized the government for allowing Gavrilov to enter the country and chair this event, “as he has fought and killed Georgians” (Agenda.ge, June 20, 2019). In 2019, Kobakhidze’s political career suffered a major collapse, but he still maintained influence in parliament as a deputy and chairman of the ruling party.
In response to criticism from political opponents, who state that Kobakhidze has no managerial experience, his associates point to his administrative skills, which he demonstrated while managing the ruling party and in previous positions (Imedi.ge, February ). Kobakhidze is the author of the country’s current constitution, which the Georgian government approved in 2017 (Imedi.ge, February 1). As a result of this constitutional revision, the governmental system transitioned into that of a parliamentary republic. He began his career with the United States Agency for International Development before he distinguished himself by sharply criticizing European and US politicians, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, when the United States introduced sanctions against several Georgian judges (Radiotavisupleba.ge, April 6, 2023). In 2023, he was one of the lobbyists for the bill on foreign agents, which implied declaring representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) financed by Western donors as agents of European countries and the United States. The bill caused mass protests and was not approved by parliament (Youtube.com, March 8, 2023). Kobakhidze actively supports the idea of the so-called sovereign democracy and non-interference by the West in monitoring compliance with democratic values (see EDM, November 15, 2021).
Kobakhidze is distinguished by his language of hatred not only against NGOs but also against the opposition and the media. He refers to everyone who opposes his ideals a foreign agent (Formulanews.ge, September 20, 2023). Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Kobakhidze was the main mouthpiece of the ruling elite who accused the EU countries, Ukraine, and the United States of trying to drag Georgia into the war. He created the term “global war party,” which includes Georgian, American, and European politicians, media, NGOs, foreign governments, and international organizations who criticize the ruling elite of Georgia (Interpress News, March 31, 2023). When asked the question: “Is Russia an enemy of Georgia?” Kobakhidze answered: “Asking such questions indicates that there is a global war party in the country, which is trying to ‘Ukrainize’ the country” (Interpress News, May 19, 2023). Further, he blamed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for organizing a special operation against Georgia for the illegal return of Georgia’s former president, Mikhail Saakashvili, in 2021 (Interpress News, December 20, 2022). This rhetoric and non-response demonstrates Russian influence on Georgian politics.
Kobakhidze is not the first member of his family to be a politician or hold these values. His opponents often compare him to his father, Gia Kobakhidze, a former politician who withdrew from political activity several years ago so as not to interfere with his son’s career development. His father is often accused of participating in the overthrow of the legally elected government under the first president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, in the 1990s. Gamsakhurdia was the leader of Georgia’s national liberation movement and an anti-communist who fought against the Soviet occupation. After gaining independence, he became the country’s first president, but with the intervention of the Kremlin, he was soon overthrown. Kobakhidze’s father ended his political career in 2015 as one of the leaders of the pro-Russian party (Youtube.com, January 21, 2015).
After Irakli Kobakhidze’s introduction as the new Prime Minister on February 2, an updated government program entitled “Towards Building a European State” was published (Netgazeti.ge, February 2). This new program, however, is not remarkably different from the previous one, and does not contain a formal shift in Georgia’s foreign policy. Further, success in Euro-Atlantic integration and deepening relations with the United States remains the most critical foreign political task.
New to the program is a section on the importance of developing a strategic partnership with China. Before his nomination to the post of Prime Minister, Kobakhidze led the ruling party delegation during a visit to China in January 2023. Kobakhidze claimed the purpose of this visit was to deepen strategic partnership with China and specifically emphasized the desire for close cooperation in economic and political spheres. Kobakhidze also aimed to deepen the relationship between the ruling Georgian Dream Party and the Chinese Communist Party (Facebook.com/GeorgianDreamOfficial, January 16). He does not see any issues in how Georgia strives to integrate into the European Union while simultaneously strengthening ties with China. Kobakhidze justified Georgia’s partnership with China by comparing it to some EU countries that also have strategic partnerships with China. Georgia’s new prime minister praises China’s economic potential, modernization quality, and even the country’s “political progress.” Kobakhidze called China the only superpower that has not had a war for several decades (Facebook.com/KobakhidzeOfficial, January 24).
Kobakhidze (like former Prime Minister Garibashvili) is not an independent politician. He is entirely subordinate to the honorary chairman of the party, Bidzina Ivanishvili, who, since his party’s first victory in the 2012 elections, has changed the prime minister seven times. According to local media, Kobakhidze is only a temporary figure. After the upcoming parliamentary elections in October 2024, Ivanishvili’s son is projected to become the country’s next prime minister (Youtube.com, January 28). Until then, the political leader of Georgia will be a politician who romanticized China and demonized the West. These political changes in Georgia, arranged by an oligarch with ties to Russia and who is strengthening connections to China, may lead to difficulties in Georgia’s Europeanization and turn towards the European Union.