The former and only president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, will be buried today in Moscow.
This will take place in a ceremony that will not amount to a state funeral and will pass without the presence of President Vladimir Putin or any other of the leading world leaders, notes the Associated Press.
The relatively low-key funeral ceremony reflected the Kremlin’s complicated relationship with the legacy of Gorbachev, who is revered in the West for ending the Cold War but despised by many at home for the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent economic collapse that forced millions to live in poverty.
On Thursday, Putin said goodbye to Gorbachev separately, laying flowers on his coffin, which the Kremlin said was due to the Russian president’s busy schedule, which would prevent him from attending the funeral today.
Asked to comment on what exactly would prevent Putin from attending, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a conference call with reporters that the head of state will have a series of working meetings, an international phone call and must prepare for his participation in the business forum in Russia’s Far east next week.
Gorbachev, who died on Tuesday at the age of 91, will be buried at Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetery next to his wife, Raisa. Before that, there will be a mourning ceremony in the Hall of Columns at the House of Unions, an iconic building near the Kremlin that has been used for state funerals since Soviet times.
Despite choosing this prestigious location, the Kremlin refrained from calling the ceremony a state funeral. According to Peskov, it will have “elements” of such, such as an honorary guard system, and the state will help organize it. He did not specify how it would differ from a full state funeral.
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If the Kremlin had announced a state funeral for Gorbachev, it would have made it harder for Putin to ignore the event. It would also have required the Kremlin to send invitations to foreign leaders, something the Russian presidency has clearly been unwilling to do amid rising tensions with the West over the war in Ukraine, the Associated Press notes.
Putin, who once called the collapse of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,” has avoided criticizing Gorbachev personally but has repeatedly accused him of failing to secure written commitments to the West that NATO would not expand eastward.
On Wednesday, the Russian president sent a carefully worded condolence cable that contained neither direct praise nor criticism. In it, Putin described Gorbachev as a person who left a “huge imprint on the course of world history.”
“He led the country during difficult and dramatic changes, in the conditions of large-scale challenges in foreign policy, economy and society,” the Russian president pointed out. “He was deeply aware that reforms were needed and tried to offer his own solutions to pressing problems.”
The Kremlin’s ambivalence was also reflected in reports on state television, in which Gorbachev was honored as a historical figure, but his reforms were described as poorly planned, and it was pointed out that he had not adequately protected the country’s interests.
The Russian public remains equally divided over Gorbachev’s legacy. Some praise him for ending the Cold War and seven decades of totalitarian rule, while others accuse him of treason.