Russians bid farewell to Gorbachev, but without Putin

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Russians on Saturday paid their final respects to the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, in a ceremony held in Moscow without much fanfare and with President Vladimir Putin notably absent.

Hundreds of mourners lined up to quietly file past Gorbachev’s open casket as it was flanked by honour guards under the Russian flag in Moscow’s historic Hall of Columns.

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

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.

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

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 prestigious Novodevichy Cemetery next to his wife Raisa, who died from cancer in 1999.

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

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

In Russia, Gorbachev’s steps towards peace and reform have been overshadowed by the economic troubles that followed the fall of the Soviet Union. 

By cracking down on independent media and political opposition, critics say, Putin has worked to undo Gorbachev’s efforts to bring “glasnost”, or openness, to the Soviet system.

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. 

mm/ach 

Originally published as Russians bid farewell to Gorbachev, but without Putin


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