Thousands of Russians bid farewell to the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev

  • Gorbachev’s situation in central Moscow
  • Thousands of Russians came out to see him
  • But Putin, other top officials stayed away
  • Gorbachev was buried in the famous Moscow cemetery
  • His legacy still divides Russians

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Thousands of Russians marched in front of the open casket of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, on Saturday, with many saying they wanted to honor his memory as a “peacemaker” who dismantled and gave their authoritarianism. their freedom.

Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union from 1985-1991, died Tuesday at the age of 91. His body remained in the state in the Great Hall of Columns in the center of Moscow according to the tradition of former Soviet leaders, including Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin.

The man known as “Gorby” in the West who won the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending the Cold War is buried at Moscow’s famed Novodevichy Cemetery alongside his wife, Raisa, who died in 1999.

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Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, and himself a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, led a line of mourners bearing a photo of his friend.

A priest recited a short prayer before a military band played the Russian national anthem, to the same tune as the Soviet anthem, as Gorbachev’s coffin was lowered to the ground. One of the honor guards fired three shots into the air.

Earlier, the former president’s body was surrounded by two rifle-armed members of the Kremlin regiment, and with the chandeliers of the 54th hall emitting only a faint glow, the former president’s body was in an open coffin with a view of his face and upper body.

His daughter Irina and her two daughters sat nearby.

Russians of all ages rushed into the hall, laid flowers on a pedestal at the foot of the casket, and stole one last peek as the dreary music played and a giant black-and-white portrait of Gorbachev emerged from the wall.

Famous in the West for helping end the Cold War, reducing his country’s stockpile of nuclear weapons, and inadvertently presiding over the collapse of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev’s legacy continues to divide opinions within Russia and abroad.

But those who queued to say goodbye remembered with gratitude the late politician who died in Moscow of an unspecified illness.

“He was a peacemaker and he was one of God’s children,” said Tatiana, 80.

“He wanted to give us democracy and freedom, and it turned out that we were not ready yet,” said Alexander Lebedev, a money magnate and close friend.

“It is very unfortunate but we will still be a European country. This part of history will end one day.”

Putin does not appear

President Vladimir Putin expressed his respect for Gorbachev on Thursday, but stayed away from Saturday’s memorial ceremony, as the Kremlin noted his busy schedule.

Nor was Gorbachev given a state funeral, unlike his opponent Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first post-Soviet president and the man who named Putin as his successor, who died in 2007.

Some saw Putin’s non-attendance as disdain from a former KGB officer who rolled back many of Gorbachev’s reforms and said he considered the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century that he would have reversed if he had had it.

“I think it’s kind of a statement,” veteran journalist Vladimir Pozner told Reuters.

“And I don’t think Mr. Putin is particularly impressed with Mr. Gorbachev. I think they saw the world very differently.” Read more

Gorbachev, like Putin, was crushed by the collapse of the Soviet Union, but many Russians blame him for starting a reform process that spiraled out of control and encouraged the Soviet Union’s 15 republics to secede.

This ushered in a period of unearthed new freedoms in Russia but also economic suffering and the sometimes bloody redistribution of state property, which left many Russians feeling angry and humiliated.

Silent protest?

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev expressed his respect for Gorbachev on Saturday, as did some, but not all, other senior politicians who are loyal to the Kremlin.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban flew to pay his respects. But with the West imposing sanctions on Russia over what Putin calls his “special military operation” in Ukraine, other European and Western leaders have been absent.

Among the mourners were many young Russians who were not even born when the Soviet Union collapsed.

said Oleg, a 22-year-old former history student.

Andrei Zubov, a historian who knew Gorbachev, said the youth’s attendance was a silent protest against the current political system.

But he said he was disappointed with the turnout given Gorbachev’s role in Russian history, suggesting that few Russians value freedom over authoritarianism.

“When Stalin was in the state here (in 1953), hundreds of thousands came and some people were killed in the stampede,” Zubov said.

“But when Gorbachev died, thousands of people came to honor someone who gave us our freedom. That’s not so much.”

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Additional reporting by Gabriel Tetro-Farber and Kevin Levy; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Frances Kerry and Russell

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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