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Thousands line up in Moscow to pay respects to Gorbachev in ceremony snubbed by Putin

Mikhail Gorbachev (Veni/Flickr)
September 05, 2022

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Thousands of people lined up in Moscow on September 3 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.

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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 honorary 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.

After the viewing, Gorbachev was buried next to his wife, Raisa, in Novodevichy cemetery, the burial site of many prominent Russians.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov, editor of the Novaya gazeta — Russia’s last major news outlet to be critical of the Kremlin before it suspended operations in March — led the procession. Gorbachev used some of his own Nobel Prize money to help start the newspaper.

Gorbachev died on August 30 at the age of 91 following a “serious and long illness,” the hospital where he was treated said.

Funeral attendee Tatiana, 80, told Reuters that Gorbachev “was a peacemaker. He was one of God’s sons.”

Olga, 60, told the Associated Press that Gorbachev could have made it more difficult for a divided Germany to unify but that he allowed it to happen peacefully.

“He enabled German unification because he understood what it means for a family to be separated.”

“At least he was never interested in just promoting his own image like today’s politicians; instead, he was a real person,” she added.

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 would have “elements” of a state funeral, such as honorary 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 that he would attend the funeral was Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has often been critical of the Western sanctions against Russia.

“Many things were needed for Central Europe to get rid of communism peacefully, without loss of life or bloodshed. One of them was Mikhail Gorbachev. God rest his soul!” Orban said on Facebook.

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.