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Russians Line Up to Bid Farewell to Gorbachev, But Without Putin


Last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev will be laid to rest Saturday in a Moscow ceremony, but without the fanfare of a state funeral and with the glaring absence of President Vladimir Putin. 

With Russia isolated by its military campaign in Ukraine, few foreign leaders are expected to attend what will be a relatively low-key affair to remember one of the great political figures of the 20th century.

Gorbachev affectionately known in the West as Gorby died on Tuesday at the age of 91 following a “serious and long illness”, the hospital where he was treated said. 

Russians stood in long lines Saturday to pay their respects to Gorbachev, who was lying in state at the Hall of Columns inside a historic building in central Moscow traditionally used for the funerals of high officials including Josef Stalin in 1953. 

Photos and videos from the event showed hundreds of people waiting to file past Gorbachev’s coffin or lay flowers. 

It’s been six months since so many good people have been in one place,” said one mourner,” according to a tweet by Guardian reporter Andrew Roth, an apparant reference to a police crackdown on opposition to the invasion of Ukraine that began in late February. 

The Hall of Columns opened at 10:00 a.m. in Moscow, according to The Gorbachev Foundation. 

There was no national day of mourning for Gorbachev — customary on the death of Soviet and Russian leaders and the ceremony will have only “elements” of a state funeral such as an honor guard, according to the Kremlin.

Gorbachev will be buried the same day at Moscow’s prestigious Novodevichy Cemetery next to his wife Raisa, who died prematurely from cancer in 1999.

While it has not been announced who will attend the funeral, the Kremlin has said that Putin will be absent due to scheduling issues.

One of the few foreign guests will be Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who will travel to Moscow on Saturday. 

Orban will pay his respects and will be accompanied by a delegation, his office said. 

In power between 1985 and 1991, Gorbachev sought to transform the Soviet Union with democratic reforms, but also eventually triggered its demise. 

In Russia, many blame him for letting go of the Soviet empire and with it the country’s position as a global power.

But in the West, Gorbachev is viewed as the man who ended the Cold War and lifted the Iron Curtain — achievements recognised by a Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.

Gorbachev championed freedom and democratic reform, seeking closer ties with Western nations, a legacy that critics say Putin has dismantled during his more than two decades in power.

Shortly after the announcement on Thursday that Putin would not be attending the funeral, state TV broadcast images of Putin, alone, laying a bouquet of red roses near Gorbachev’s open casket at the hospital where he died.

Putin’s planned absence from the funeral is an illustration of Gorbachev’s controversial legacy in Russia, where the reaction to his death was in stark contrast to in the West. 

After his death, tributes poured in from Western capitals, where Gorbachev is remembered for allowing countries in Eastern Europe to free themselves from Soviet rule and for signing a landmark nuclear arms reduction pact with the United States.

Germany announced that flags would fly at half-mast in Berlin on Saturday in memory of Gorbachev, who held back Soviet troops as the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. 

In Russia, Gorbachev’s steps towards peace have been overshadowed by the economic troubles that followed the fall of the Soviet Union.

Putin has described the Soviet collapse as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the past century.

But even Gorbachev’s successor, Boris Yeltsin, who became the first president of modern Russia and led the country through years of painful transition to a market economy, was honored with a state funeral and day of mourning when he died in 2007. 

Both Putin and Gorbachev were in attendance. 

AFP contributed reporting.

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