Russians line up to say farewell to Mikhail Gorbachev, but Putin is absent

Mourners file past coffin at Hall of Columns in Moscow for low-key ceremony

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Mourners queued in Moscow on Saturday to bid farewell to the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was absent from the ceremony honouring Gorbachev, who was laid to rest without official state honours.

However, Gorbachev was granted a low-key public send-off, with authorities allowing Russians to view his coffin in the imposing Hall of Columns where Soviet leaders including Joseph Stalin laid in state.

Gorbachev died on Tuesday at the age of 91 following a long illness, the hospital where he was treated said.

Gorbachev, who was in power between 1985 and 1991, sought to transform the Soviet Union with democratic reforms that eventually triggered its demise.

One of the great political figures of the 20th century, he was lionised in the West for helping to end the Cold War and trying to change the USSR, but despised by many in Russia for the economic chaos and loss of global influence that followed the Soviet collapse.

He had spent most of the last few decades out of the political limelight and his death this week was barely acknowledged in official circles in Russia.

State television on Thursday showed images of Mr Putin, alone, laying a bouquet of red roses near Gorbachev's open casket at the hospital where he died.

But the Kremlin said Putin would not attend Saturday's funeral due to his “work schedule”.

There were few other signs of an official presence at the ceremony, where Gorbachev's daughter Irina Virganskaya sat to the side of the coffin with other family members.

Gorbachev was to be buried later Saturday at Moscow's Novodevichy Cemetery next to his wife Raisa, who died of cancer in 1999.

With Russia isolated by its war in Ukraine, the only senior foreign official to announce he would attend was Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary.

Before the Ukraine invasion, Mr Orban had one of the closest relationships with Mr Putin of any EU leader, but the Kremlin said there were no talks planned during his visit to Moscow.

Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev attends the funeral of Mikhail Gorbachev. AFP

After Gorbachev's death, tributes poured in from western capitals, where he 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 US.

Known affectionately in the West as Gorby, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.

Flags were also flying at half-mast in Berlin on Saturday, in memory of the man who held back Soviet troops as the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

Mr Putin, who called the Soviet collapse the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century, has spent much of his more than 20-year rule reversing parts of Gorbachev's legacy.

With February's invasion of Ukraine, he has sought to reassert Russian influence in one of the countries that won its independence when the Soviet Union fell apart.

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 honoured with a state funeral and day of mourning when he died in 2007.

Both Mr Putin and Gorbachev were in attendance.

Mikhail Gorbachev - in pictures

Updated: September 03, 2022, 2:54 PM
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