Irakli Kobakhidze, the current chair of the ruling Georgian Dream party, will take over as Prime Minister of Georgia, replacing Irakli Garibashvili, the pro-government TV channel Imedi announced on Jan. 29.
Garibashvili has served as prime minister since 2021, and previously from 2013-2015. He will take Kobakhidze's place as the party chair.
The news, which is expected to be formally announced later this week, came a month after Georgian Dream party founder and former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili said he was returning to politics as the party's "honorary chair."
Ivanishvili is the richest person in Georgia, and is widely believed to have remained the true power behind the government even during his ostensible tenure away from politics.
Georgian Dream has taken inconsistent positions on Russia and its full-scale war on Ukraine.
Garibashvili drew widespread criticism in May 2023 after he said that Ukraine was partially to blame for Russia's full-scale war.
Representatives from Georgian Dream did not vote for the Oct. 13 Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) resolution that declared Russia a dictatorship.
Georgia has also refrained from joining sanctions against Russia, often citing that doing so would harm its own economic interests.
Georgian Dream tried to enact a foreign agents law in 2023, characterized by some as a "kind of a copy-paste from Russia," but withdrew it from consideration after massive street protests broke out in response.
Kobakhidze has been in Georgian politics since 2015 and was first elected to parliament in 2016. He has held the seat of Georgian Dream party chair since 2021.
Kobakhidze has gained attention and occasional condemnation for his inflammatory statements. While he has condemned Russia's full-scale war and supported Ukraine's territorial integrity, the Caucasus media outlet OC-Media found that Kobakhidze publicly criticized the West and Ukraine much more often than Russia.
The pro-Western Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili has denounced the anti-Western rhetoric often repeated by Kobakhidze and other Georgian Dream politicians.
Zourabichvili faced an attempted impeachment in October 2023, spearheaded by Kobakhidze and other Georgian Dream members, which ultimately failed to garner enough votes to pass.
Kobakhidze and Georgian Dream are "pushing the country towards isolation," Zourabichvili said at the time.
Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova all applied for EU membership after the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022. The European Commission offered Georgia candidate status in November 2023, while Moldova and Ukraine were granted official recommendations to begin accession talks.
A report released by the EU's Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (EaP CSF) earlier in January found that Georgia has made only minimal progress in its EU-required reforms and runs the risk of drifting toward Russia.
Georgian citizens remain overwhelmingly in favor of joining the EU, with a poll released in November 2023 showing that 86% of respondents supported EU accession. Another 55% said they were in favor of joining the EU even if it meant "cutting trade ties with Russia."