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Putin praises Gorbachev but will not attend funeral

Russian President Vladimir Putin denies the man who failed to prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union honoring the entire state.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will miss the funeral of the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, denying the man who failed to prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union from the full honor given to former President Boris Yeltsin.

Gorbachev, idolized in the West for allowing Eastern Europe to escape Soviet communist control but unloved at home for the chaos he unleashed on “perestroika” reforms, will be buried after a public ceremony in Moscow’s Column Hall.

The Great Hall, within sight of the Kremlin, hosted the funerals of Soviet leaders Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin and Leonid Brezhnev. Gorbachev will be given a guard of military honor – but his funeral will not be a state.

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On Thursday, state television showed Putin officially laying red roses next to Gorbachev’s coffin – which was left open as is customary in Russia – at the Central Clinical Hospital in Moscow, where he died on Tuesday at the age of 91.

He stood in silence for a few moments, bowed his head, touched the coffin, crossed himself and went away.

“Unfortunately, the president’s work schedule will not allow him to do this on September 3, so he decided to do it today,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Putin Gorbachev
Putin pays his last respects next to Gorbachev’s coffin at the Central Hospital in Moscow [Russian pool via AP]

Gorbachev will be buried at Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetery next to his wife, Raisa, after a farewell ceremony in the Federation Council’s Pilar Hall, a famous palace near the Kremlin that has served as a place for state funerals since Soviet times.

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The Kremlin stopped short of announcing a state funeral, with Peskov saying the ceremony would feature “elements” from one of them, such as honor guards, and the government would help organize it. However, he did not explain how the ceremony would differ from a full state funeral.

However, this would be a marked contrast to the funeral of Yeltsin, who was instrumental in marginalizing Gorbachev with the collapse of the Soviet Union and selecting Putin, a professional intelligence officer in the KGB, as the man most suitable to succeed him.

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When Yeltsin died in 2007, Putin declared a day of national mourning, and, along with world leaders, attended a major state funeral at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow.

The Russian intervention in Ukraine appears intended to at least partially reverse the collapse of the Soviet Union that Gorbachev failed to prevent in 1991.

Gorbachev’s decision to allow the postwar Soviet Communist bloc countries to go their own way, and to reunify East and West Germany, helped launch nationalist movements within the 15 Soviet republics that he was powerless to suppress.

Five years after taking power in 2000, Putin called the dissolution of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century.”

It took more than 15 hours after Gorbachev’s death to publish a restrictive letter of condolence that said Gorbachev had had “a great influence on the course of world history” and “understood deeply that reforms were necessary” to address the problems of the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

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Sergei Markov, a pro-Kremlin political analyst, noted that Putin’s decision to privately honor Gorbachev reflects “security problems and the absolute unpopularity of Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies”. At the same time, Markov said, Putin wanted to show his respect for the former head of state.

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The Kremlin’s contradictory view of Gorbachev was reflected in state television broadcasts, which praised Gorbachev as a historical figure, but described his reforms as poorly planned and held him responsible for failing to protect the country’s interests in dialogue with the West.

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