Gorbachev -- affectionately known in the West as Gorby -- died on Tuesday at the age of 91

Russians say goodbye to Gorbachev, but without Putin

Gorbachev, affectionately known in the West as Gorbi, died on Tuesday at the age of 91 – Copyright AFP Alexander NEMENOV

The last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, will be buried Saturday in a ceremony in Moscow, but without the fanfare of a state funeral and in the apparent absence of President Vladimir Putin.

With Russia isolated by its military campaign in Ukraine, no foreign leader is expected to take part in the relatively modest event commemorating one of the great political figures of the 20th century.

Gorbachev, affectionately known in the West as Gorbi, died Tuesday at the age of 91 after a “severe and prolonged illness,” the hospital where he was treated said.

In power from 1985 to 1991, Gorbachev sought to reshape the Soviet Union through democratic reforms, but ultimately also instigated its collapse.

In Russia, many accuse him of abandoning the Soviet empire, and with it, the country’s position as a world power.

But in the West, Gorbachev is seen as the man who ended the Cold War and lifted the Iron Curtain, accomplishments that earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.

Gorbachev championed freedom and democratic reform while seeking closer ties with Western countries, a legacy critics say Putin has eroded in his more than two decades in power.

– “Elements” of a state funeral –

According to the Kremlin, there will be no national day of mourning for Gorbachev – the usual death day for Soviet and Russian leaders – and the ceremony will only have “elements” of a state funeral, such as a guard of honor.

Gorbachev will be laid in the Hall of Columns in the historic building in the center of Moscow, which was traditionally used for the funeral of dignitaries, including Joseph Stalin, in 1953.

According to the Gorbachev Foundation, the ceremony will begin at 07:00 GMT and will be open to the public.

On the same day, he will be buried at the prestigious Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow next to his wife Raisa, who died prematurely from cancer in 1999.

Although it was not announced who would attend the funeral, the Kremlin said Putin would be absent due to scheduling issues.

Shortly after Thursday’s announcement, state television showed Putin placing a bouquet of red roses alone near Gorbachev’s open coffin in the hospital where he died.

Putin’s planned absence from the funeral is a sign of Gorbachev’s controversial legacy in Russia, where the reaction to his death was starkly different from that in the West.

After his death, tributes poured in from Western capitals, where Gorbachev is remembered for allowing the countries of Eastern Europe to break free from Soviet rule and for signing a landmark nuclear arms reduction pact with the United States.

Germany announced that flags would be flown at half-staff in Berlin on Saturday in memory of Gorbachev, who held back Soviet troops during the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

In Russia, Gorbachev’s moves towards peace were overshadowed by the economic problems that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. Putin called his death the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the last century.

But even Gorbachev’s successor Boris Yeltsin, who became the first president of modern Russia and led the country through years of painful transition to a market economy, was honored with a state funeral and a day of mourning when he died in 2007.

Both Putin and Gorbachev were present.

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