The last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev will be laid to rest in a ceremony in Moscow on Saturday, but without the fanfare of a state funeral and with the conspicuous absence of President Vladimir Putin.
With Russia isolated by its military campaign in Ukraine, no foreign leader is 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 as Gorby in the West, died Tuesday at the age of 91 following a “serious and long illness”, said the hospital where he was being treated.
In power between 1985 and 1991, Gorbachev sought to transform the Soviet Union with democratic reforms, but also ultimately sparked its demise.
In Russia, many blame him for having abandoned the Soviet empire and with it the country’s position as a world power.
But in the West, Gorbachev is seen as the man who ended the Cold War and lifted the Iron Curtain – achievements recognized by a Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.
Gorbachev championed freedom and democratic reform, seeking closer ties with Western nations, a legacy critics say Putin dismantled during his more than two decades in power.
“Elements” of the State Funeral
There will be no national day of mourning for Gorbachev – customary on the death of Soviet and Russian leaders – and the ceremony will only feature “elements” of a state funeral such as an honor guard, according to the Kremlin.
Gorbachev will be displayed in the Hall of Columns inside a historic building in central Moscow traditionally used for the funerals of high-ranking officials, including Joseph Stalin in 1953.
The ceremony is scheduled to start at 07:00 GMT and will be open to the public, according to the Gorbachev Foundation.
He will be buried the same day at the prestigious Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow alongside his wife Raisa, who died prematurely of cancer in 1999.
Although it has not been announced who will attend the funeral, the Kremlin said Putin will be absent due to scheduling issues.
Shortly after Thursday’s announcement, state television broadcast footage of Putin alone laying a bouquet of red roses near Gorbachev’s open coffin at the hospital where he died.
Putin’s expected absence from the funeral is a sign of Gorbachev’s controversial legacy in Russia, where the reaction to his death was in stark contrast to that in the West.
After his death, tributes poured in from Western capitals, where Gorbachev is remembered for freeing Eastern European countries from Soviet rule and for signing a historic nuclear arms reduction pact. with the United States.
Germany announced on Saturday that flags would fly at half mast in Berlin in memory of Gorbachev, who held off Soviet troops when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.
In Russia, Gorbachev’s steps toward peace were overshadowed by the economic turmoil that followed the fall of the Soviet Union. Putin described his disappearance as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the last century.
But even Gorbachev’s successor, Boris Yeltsin, who became modern Russia’s first president and led the country through years of painful transition to a market economy, was honored with a state funeral and a day of mourning in his death in 2007.
Putin and Gorbachev were present.