Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who launched drastic reforms that helped end the Cold War and precipitated the breakup of the Soviet Union, was buried Saturday after a farewell ceremony attended by thousands of mourners but snubbed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Kremlin’s refusal to formally declare a state funeral reflects its uneasiness about the legacy of Gorbachev, who has been venerated worldwide for bringing down the Iron Curtain but reviled by many at home for the Soviet collapse and the ensuing economic meltdown that plunged millions into poverty.
On Thursday, Putin privately laid flowers at Gorbachev’s coffin at a Moscow hospital where he died. The Kremlin said the president’s busy schedule would prevent him from attending the funeral.
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Asked what specific business will keep Putin busy on Saturday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the president will have a series of working meetings, an international phone call and needs to prepare for a business forum in Russia’s Far East he’s scheduled to attend next week.
Gorbachev, who died Tuesday at the age of 91, was buried at Moscow’s Novodevichy cemetery next to his wife Raisa, following a farewell ceremony at the Pillar Hall of the House of the Unions, an opulent 18th-century mansion near the Kremlin that has served as the venue for state funerals since Soviet times.
The relatively modest ceremony contrasted with a lavish 2007 state funeral given to Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first post-Soviet leader who anointed Putin as his preferred successor and set the stage for him to win the presidency by stepping down.
Yeltsin was also buried at the Novodevichy cemetery, which holds the graves of an array of many prominent Russians, including Dmitry Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev and Anton Chekhov. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who was ousted from power in 1964, is among those who were buried there.
The farewell viewing was shadowed by the awareness that the openness Gorbachev championed has been stifled under Putin.
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