Russia's Vladimir Putin to miss Mikhail Gorbachev's funeral

Former Soviet leader will not have a full state funeral

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has viewed the body of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev but has ruled out attending his funeral, which will be held near the Kremlin.

Mr Putin’s decision partly reflects official ambivalence towards Gorbachev, a controversial figure in Russia due to his role in the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

A Kremlin spokesman also confirmed that Gorbachev will not have a full state funeral — an event that would require invitations to be sent to world leaders — but the government is helping to organise it.

Russian state television showed Mr Putin visiting the Moscow hospital where Gorbachev’s body is being kept before Saturday’s funeral and placing a bouquet of red roses next to the open casket. He stood in silence for a few moments, bowed his head, touched the coffin, crossed himself and walked away.

“Regrettably, the president’s working schedule wouldn’t allow him to do that on Saturday, so he decided to do that today,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Gorbachev will be buried at Moscow’s Novodevichy cemetery next to his wife, Raisa, after a farewell ceremony at Pillar Hall in the House of the Unions, a mansion near the Kremlin that has served as the venue for state funerals since the Soviet era.

Asked if there would be a state funeral, Mr Peskov said the funeral will have “elements” of state funeral, such as honour guards, and the government will help to organise it. He did not elaborate on how the ceremony would differ from a full-fledged state funeral.

The late leader was lauded in the West for helping to bring an end to the Cold War but is reviled by many at home for actions that led to the 1991 Soviet collapse, which plunged millions into poverty.

Had the Kremlin declared a state funeral, it would have made it harder for Mr Putin to avoid it. A state funeral would also oblige the Kremlin to send invitations to foreign leaders, including some of those angry at Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

Mr Putin has previously blamed Gorbachev for failing to secure written commitments from the West that would rule out Nato’s expansion eastward.

In Wednesday’s telegram of condolences released by the Kremlin, Mr Putin praised Gorbachev as a man who left “an enormous impact on the course of world history”.

“He led the country during difficult and dramatic changes, amid large-scale foreign policy, economic and society challenges,” Mr Putin said. “He deeply realised that reforms were necessary and tried to offer his solutions for the acute problems.”

Updated: September 01, 2022, 2:41 PM
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