A picture shows a portrait of the last leader of the Soviet Union and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990, Mikhail Gorbachev, displayed in his memory in his office at the Gorbachev Foundation headquarters in Moscow, on August 31, 2022. – Mikhail Gorbachev, who changed the course of history by triggering the demise of the Soviet Union and was one of the great figures of the 20th century, died in Moscow on August 30, 2022, aged 91. (Photo by Alexander NEMENOV / AFP)
MOSCOW, Russia (AFP) — Last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev will be laid to rest Saturday in a Moscow ceremony, but without the fanfare of a state funeral and with the glaring absence of President Vladimir Putin.
With Russia isolated by its military campaign in Ukraine, no foreign leaders are 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 in the West as Gorby — died on Tuesday at the age of 91 following a “serious and long illness”, the hospital where he was treated said.
In power between 1985 and 1991, Gorbachev sought to transform the Soviet Union with democratic reforms, but also eventually triggered its demise.
In Russia, many blame him for letting go of the Soviet empire and with it the country’s position as a global power.
But in the West, Gorbachev is viewed as the man who ended the Cold War and lifted the Iron Curtain — achievements recognised by a Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.
Gorbachev championed freedom and democratic reform, seeking closer ties with Western nations, a legacy that critics say Putin has dismantled during his more than two decades in power.
– ‘Elements’ of 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 have only “elements” of a state funeral such as an honour guard, according to the Kremlin.
Gorbachev will lay in state at the Hall of Columns inside a historic building in central Moscow, traditionally used for the funerals of high officials including Joseph Stalin in 1953.
The ceremony is scheduled to start at 0700 GMT and will be open to the public, according to The Gorbachev Foundation.
He will be buried the same day at Moscow’s prestigious Novodevichy Cemetery next to his wife Raisa, who died prematurely from cancer in 1999.
While it has not been announced who will attend the funeral, the Kremlin has said that Putin will be absent due to scheduling issues.
Shortly after the announcement on Thursday, state TV broadcast images of Putin, alone, laying a bouquet of red roses near Gorbachev’s open casket at the hospital where he died.
Putin’s planned 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 in the West.
After his death, tributes poured in from Western capitals, where Gorbachev 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 United States.
Germany announced that flags would fly at half-mast in Berlin on Saturday in memory of Gorbachev, who held back Soviet troops as the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.
In Russia, Gorbachev’s steps towards peace have been overshadowed by the economic troubles that followed the fall of the Soviet Union. Putin has described its demise as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the past century.
But even 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 Putin and Gorbachev were in attendance.
© Agence France-Presse