Thousands of people lined up in Moscow Saturday to pay their final respects to the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, an architect of drastic reforms that helped end the Cold War.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was notably absent, with the Kremlin saying the president’s busy schedule prevented him from attending the funeral ceremony.
Mourners passed by Gorbachev’s open casket flanked by honor guards under the Russian flag in Moscow’s historic Hall of Columns, which has served as the venue for state funerals since Soviet times. Gorbachev’s daughter, Irina, and his two granddaughters sat beside the coffin.
Gorbachev was to be buried later on September 3 at Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetery next to his wife, Raisa.
Gorbachev died on August 30 at the age 91 following a “serious and long illness” the hospital where he was treated said.
Gorbachev took over the Communist Party and Soviet leadership in 1985 and presided over six turbulent years that saw the fall of the Iron Curtain, the reunification of Germany, and ultimately the Soviet demise.
Despite the choice of the prestigious site for the farewell ceremony, the Kremlin stopped short of calling it a state funeral. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the ceremony will have “elements” of a state funeral, such as honor guards, and the government’s assistance in organizing it.
Declaring a state funeral for Gorbachev would have obliged Putin to attend it and would have required Moscow to invite foreign leaders, something that Russia was apparently reluctant to do amid growing tensions with the West over its unprovoked war in Ukraine.
The only senior foreign official to announce he would attend the funeral was Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has often been critical of the Western sanctions against Russia.
Before the Ukraine conflict, Orban had a close relationship with Putin, but the Kremlin said there were no talks planned during his visit to Moscow.
Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council who served as Russia’s president in 2008-2012, attended the farewell ceremony. Medvedev then released a post on social media, referring to the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and accusing the United States and its allies of trying to engineer Russia’s breakup, a policy he described as a “chess game with death.”
Flags were also flying at half-mast in Berlin on September 3, to honor the man who held back Soviet troops as the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.
Some informarion for this report came from the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse.