On Saturday, Moscow held a farewell viewing of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev before his body was buried beside his wife in Novodevichy cemetery. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin was not in attendance.
Gorbachev, who was in power when the Soviet Union collapsed, died last Tuesday at the age of 91.
Last Thursday, privately Putin paid his respects to the former Soviet leader, laying flowers at Gorbachev’s coffin at the Moscow hospital where he died. However, the Kremlin said Putin’s busy schedule prevented him from attending Saturday’s funeral.
When asked by reporters what Putin could have been doing to keep him away from a Saturday service, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian president had a series of working meetings, along with an international phone call. Peskov said Putin also had to prepare for a business forum he will be attending this week in Russia’s far east.
Gorbachev’s body was displayed for public viewing in the Pillar Hall of the House of the Unions, the opulent 18th-century mansion near the Kremlin that has often served as a venue for state funerals since Soviet times. However, Gorbachev did not receive an official state funeral.
The Novodevichy cemetery where Gorbachev was laid to rest beside his wife Raisa is where many prominent Russians have been buried, including the country’s first post-Soviet president Boris Yeltsin.
The funeral procession that carried Gorbachev’s coffin into the cemetery was led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov, the editor of the Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s last Kremlin-critical newspaper that suspended operations after the invasion of Ukraine.
The Kremlin’s refusal to formally declare a state funeral for Gorbachev reflected Moscow’s unease over the former Soviet leader’s legacy. While venerated outside of Russia as being instrumental in the collapse of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev was reviled by many within Russia for causing the economic meltdown following the Soviet Union’s demise that sent millions of Russians into poverty.