Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader widely admired in the West and who lived long enough to see all the reforms he championed undone, was to be buried on Saturday without state honors or the presence of President Vladimir Putin.
Gorbachev, who died aged 91 on Tuesday, was given a public farewell – Muscovites will be able to view his coffin in the imposing Hall of Columns, within sight of the Kremlin, where former Soviet leaders were mourned.
Ahead of his funeral, which is due to begin at 0700 GMT, pallbearers hoisted Gorbachev’s wooden coffin, draped in a Russian tricolor flag, into the hall.
But it’s no surprise that Putin, a longtime KGB intelligence officer who called the collapse of the Soviet Union a “geopolitical catastrophe,” denied Gorbachev all state honors and said that his schedule did not allow him to attend the funeral.
Gorbachev became a hero in the West for enabling Eastern Europe to shake off more than four decades of Soviet communist control, by letting East Germany and West Germany reunite and forging arms control treaties with the United States.
But when the 15 Soviet republics seized the same freedoms to demand their independence, Gorbachev was powerless to prevent the collapse of the Union in 1991, six years after becoming its leader.
For this, and the economic chaos his “perestroika” liberalization program unleashed, many Russians could not forgive him.
GORBACHEV “CRUSHED” BY UKRAINIAN EVENTS
The many Western heads of state and government who would certainly have come will be absent on Saturday, sidelined by the chasm in relations between Moscow and the West opened by Putin’s decision to send troops to Ukraine in February .
Instead, ordinary Russians will parade past the open coffin of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, whose honor guard will provide an “element” of a state occasion, according to the Kremlin.
All of this will be a far cry from the national day of mourning and state funeral in Moscow’s main cathedral that was granted in 2007 to former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who was instrumental in bringing the away from Gorbachev as the Soviet Union was collapsing and then chose Putin. as his own successor.
After the ceremony, however, Gorbachev will be buried like Yeltsin in Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetery, alongside his beloved wife Raisa, who died 23 years ago.
Upon entering the Kremlin in 2000, Putin wasted no time in rolling back the political plurality that had grown out of Gorbachev’s policy of “glasnost” or openness, and slowly began to rebuild the Moscow’s influence over many of its lost republics.
The interpreter and longtime aide to Gorbachev said this week that Russia’s actions in Ukraine left the former leader “shocked and perplexed” in the final months of his life.
“It’s not just the operation that started on February 24, but the whole development of Russian-Ukrainian relations over the past few years that was really, really a blow to him. ‘really crushed, emotionally and psychologically,’ Pavel Palazhchenko told Reuters in an interview.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)