March 30, 2023

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Russia: Gorbachev’s funeral, without the pomp, without Putin

The funeral of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, will take place in Moscow on Saturday, with President Vladimir Putin not attending in a sign of his controversial legacy in Russia.

A great political figure of the 20th century, Gorbachev died on Tuesday evening at the age of 91 after a “long and serious illness”, according to the hospital where he was treated.

He made history by ending the Cold War in 1991 when he defied the disappearance of the Soviet empire and tried to save it with democratic and economic reforms.

Gorbachev, admired in the West as a man of peace, is seen by many in Russia as the cause of Moscow’s geopolitical downfall and the political, economic and moral crises that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A sign of this discontent, no national day of mourning was declared, even though there was a “national funeral” at Mikhail Gorbachev’s burial, notably a “guard of honor”, the Kremlin underlined.

And amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West over the Ukraine conflict, no foreign leader has announced a trip to attend the funeral in Moscow.

The funeral will begin with a farewell ceremony at the House of Trade Unions, a landmark in the Russian capital where the remains of many Communist dignitaries such as Joseph Stalin were exhumed in 1953.

The Gorbachev Foundation announced that the ceremony, scheduled to begin at 0700 GMT, will be open to the public.

The former Soviet leader will later be buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery, next to his wife Raisa Gorbatseva, who died in 1999 and was very close to him.

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– Absence of bootin –

The list of people who will attend the funeral is not known, but on Thursday the Kremlin has already announced that President Putin will not be officially present due to a busy “schedule” on Thursday.

According to images broadcast on Russian television, Mr. Putin had already visited the Central Medical Hospital (TSKB) in Moscow on Thursday, where Gorbachev died.

The Russian president laid a bouquet of red roses next to the open coffin of the last leader of the Soviet Union, marked a moment of reflection for a few seconds, then bowed his head respectfully.

The day after his death, Wednesday paid the first minimal tribute to him in an obituary. In a neutral tone, he noted that Mikhail Gorbachev “had a great influence on world history” and that he “tried to present his own solutions to problems”.

The relationship between the two men was complex, oscillating between respect and mutual reproach, leading to affectionate indifference.

Instead, Western capitals, from Washington to Berlin, via Paris and Rome, fondly celebrated Gorbachev’s memory, praising him for his work for East-West rapprochement and nuclear disarmament, which earned him the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize.

Germany, whose reunification was made possible by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Soviet Union, announced Saturday that flags will be at half-mast in the German capital.

But in Russia, Gorbachev is seen by many as the gravedigger of the great Soviet power that rivaled the United States, whose end, seen as humiliating, led to a decade of crises and violence.

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Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first president during the years of the painful transition to a market economy, and who appointed Vladimir Putin as his successor, received strong tributes when he died in 2007.

The Kremlin later declared a day of national mourning and organized an official funeral attended by Vladimir Putin and Mikhail Gorbachev.