The last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, will be buried in a ceremony in Moscow on Saturday without fanfare of a state funeral and in the apparent absence of President Vladimir Putin.
With Russia isolated by military operations in Ukraine, foreign leaders are not expected to attend a relatively low-key event to commemorate one of the great politicians of the 20th century.
Gorbachev, affectionately known in the West as Gorby, died Tuesday at the age of 91 after a “serious and prolonged illness,” the hospital where he was treated said.
Gorbachev, who came to power from 1985 to 1991, sought to transform the Soviet Union through democratic reforms, but ultimately also triggered its demise.
In Russia, many criticize him for letting go of the Soviet empire and thereby losing his status as a world power.
In the West, however, Gorbachev is seen as the man who ended the Cold War and lifted the Iron Curtain.
Gorbachev championed freedom and democratic reforms and called for closer ties with the West, but critics say Putin disintegrated during more than two decades in power.
– Elements of state funeral –
According to the Kremlin, there will be no Gorbachev Memorial Day, which is customary to commemorate the deaths of Soviet and Russian leaders, and the ceremony will only include “elements” of state funerals, such as the honor guard.
Gorbachev lies stateside in the Hall of Columns inside a historic building in central Moscow, traditionally used for the funerals of dignitaries, including Joseph Stalin in 1953.
According to the Gorbachev Foundation, the ceremony is scheduled to start at 0700 GMT and will be open to the public.
He will be buried the same day at Moscow’s prestigious Novodevichy Cemetery, next to his wife Raisa, who died prematurely of cancer in 1999.
It has not been announced who will attend the funeral, but the Kremlin has said Putin will be absent due to scheduling issues.
Shortly after Thursday’s announcement, state television broadcast footage of Putin alone at the hospital where he died, placing a bouquet of red roses near Gorbachev’s open coffin.
Putin’s absence from the funeral is a symptom of a controversial legacy in Russia, where reactions to Mr. Gorbachev’s death contrasted starkly with those in the West.
After his death, tributes poured in from Western capitals where Gorbachev is remembered for liberating the nations of Eastern Europe from Soviet rule and signing a landmark nuclear arms reduction agreement with the United States.
Germany has announced that its flag will fly at half-staff in Berlin on Saturday to commemorate Gorbachev, who suppressed Soviet troops when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.
In Russia, Gorbachev’s peace steps are overshadowed by the economic problems that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. Putin has described its demise as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the last century.
But even Gorbachev’s successor, Boris Yeltsin, who became the first president of modern Russia and led the country through years of transition to a market economy, when he died in 2007, there was no state funeral and memorial service. The day has come.
Both Putin and Gorbachev were present.