VLADIMIR Putin will not attend the funeral of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the Kremlin said, but has paid tribute to him.
The Russian President, who links Gorbachev’s reforms in the late 1990s as the “downfall” of Russian global power said via a Kremlin Spokesperson that his work schedule “wouldn’t allow him” to attend the funeral.
“Regrettably, the president’s working schedule wouldn’t allow him to do that on Saturday, so he decided to do that today.” the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.
Adding that Mr Putin visited a Moscow hospital where Mr Gorbachev’s body was being kept before Saturday’s funeral to lay flowers at his coffin.
Mr Gorbachev, who died on Tuesday, will be buried at Moscow’s Novodevichy cemetery next to his wife Raisa after a farewell ceremony to be held at the Pillar Hall of the House of the Unions, a historic mansion near the Kremlin that has served as the venue for state funerals since Soviet times.
Asked if Mr Gorbachev would be given a state funeral, Mr Peskov said the funeral would have “elements” of a state funeral, such as honorary guards, and the government would help organise them.
Mr Putin’s decision to pay a private visit to the hospital while staying away from Saturday’s public farewell ceremony, combined with uncertainty surrounding the funeral’s status, reflect the Kremlin’s divided thinking on the legacy of Mr Gorbachev.
The late leader has been lauded in the West by putting an end to the Cold War but reviled by many at home for actions that led to the 1991 Soviet collapse and plunged millions into poverty.
While avoiding explicit personal criticism of Mr Gorbachev, Mr Putin has in the past repeatedly blamed him for failing to secure written commitments from the West that would rule out Nato’s expansion eastwards — an issue that became a major irritant in Russia/West ties for decades and fomented tensions that exploded when the Russian leader sent troops into Ukraine on February 24.
In Wednesday’s telegram of condolences released by the Kremlin, Mr Putin praised Mr Gorbachev as a man who left “an enormous impact on the course of world history”.
“He led the country during difficult and dramatic changes, amid large-scale foreign policy, economic and society challenges,” Mr Putin said.
“He deeply realised that reforms were necessary and tried to offer his solutions for the acute problems.”
The Kremlin’s ambivalent view of Mr Gorbachev was mirrored by state television broadcasts, which paid tribute to the former leader as a historic figure but described his reforms as poorly planned and held him responsible for failing to safeguard the country’s interests in dialogue with the West.
The criticism echoed earlier assessments by Mr Putin, who has famously lamented the collapse of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”.
Mr Peskov said on Wednesday that Mr Gorbachev was an “extraordinary” statesman who would “always remain in the country’s history”, but noted what he described as his idealistic view of the West.
“Gorbachev gave an impulse for ending the Cold War and he sincerely wanted to believe that it would be over and an eternal romance would start between the renewed Soviet Union and the collective West,” Mr Peskov said.
“This romanticism failed to materialise. The bloodthirsty nature of our opponents has come to light, and it’s good that we realised that in time.”