Revolutionaries celebrate Soviet victory

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The Independent Online

Realpolitik triumphed over democratic idealism when two of the most prominent velvet revolutionaries in the former Soviet Union joined the Russian President Vladimir Putin at the inauguration of Kazakhstan's freshly re-elected autocratic president.

In the Kazakh capital Astana, Viktor Yushchenko, the leader of Ukraine's orange revolution, and Mikhail Saakashvili, the victor of Georgia's rose revolution, attended an ostentatious swearing-in ceremony for 65-year-old Nursultan Nazarbayev.

It was an incongruous event for the two men to attend since they have became the standard bearers of regime change and anti-Moscow rhetoric in the former USSR and Mr Nazarbayev represents everything they profess to abhor.

The moment seemed all the more demeaning for the two leaders because Mr Putin, a symbol of the Russian brand of imperialism they have struggled to throw off, was in attendance and it was painfully clear that they needed him more than he needed them.

Indeed, their presence appeared to underscore the end of the velvet revolution juggernaut in the region and a realisation that Ukraine and Georgia now have no choice but to do business with authoritarian governments that are more powerful and more energy-rich than they are.

Kyrgyzstan in central Asia has been the only other former Soviet state to experience a velvet revolution, though that now looks to have been more of a coup d'état and it is hard to see where the next exercise in people's power might unfold.

That Mr Yushchenko and Mr Saakashvili felt it necessary to pay their respects to Mr Nazarbayev is an irony that will not be lost on the former Soviet bureaucrat or indeed the Kremlin. Mr Nazarbayev makes no secret of his distaste for velvet revolutions and is precisely the kind of leader that the uprisings in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan toppled.

In power since 1989, he won a third successive term as president in December purportedly capturing 91 per cent of votes, an achievement that looks set to see him rule Kazakhstan, an oil-rich country the size of western Europe, for a further seven years, bringing his overall tenure to a quarter of a century.

Though Mr Nazarbayev claimed that the elections were held in "unprecedented democratic conditions" the West had a very different opinion.

But Kazakhstan and indeed Russia's huge oil and gas reserves were obviously enough to persuade Mr Yushchenko and Mr Saakashvili that they could not afford to be too choosy about the company they keep. "Although we're people of different experience and different generations, we have found a great common language," Mr Saakashvili said after talks with Mr Nazarbayev, adding that Georgia was learning about economic reform from Kazakhstan. Mr Yushchenko also held a meeting with the Kazakh leader at which he discussed energy co-operation after Russia cut gas supplies to Ukraine for three days earlier this year as part of a bitter price dispute.

Kazakhstan is expected to become one of the world's top 10 oil producers in the next decade. The country boasts the largest oil field to be discovered in the past 30 years, and has large reserves of natural gas around the Caspian Sea.

Mr Yushchenko was also forced to play second fiddle to a confident-looking Mr Putin, who told him that Russia's gas deal with Ukraine was good for both countries and would be fully honoured.

The nature of the deal - it in effect doubled the price Ukraine pays for gas - prompted the Ukrainian parliament to sack Mr Yushchenko's cabinet on Tuesday. A no-confidence motion was passed by 250 votes to 50. But yesterday Mr Yushchenko made it clear that his team would try to continue in office until parliamentary elections could be held in March.