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Putin won't attend Gorbachev's funeral because of scheduling constraints

“Unfortunately, the president’s work schedule will not allow him to do this,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
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/ Source: The Associated Press

Russian President Vladimir Putin will not attend the funeral of the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, on Saturday because of schedule constraints, the Kremlin said.

In a call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin had paid his respects Thursday morning by visiting and laying a wreath at Moscow’s Central Clinical Hospital, where Gorbachev died Tuesday.

“Unfortunately, the president’s work schedule will not allow him to do this on Sept. 3, so he decided to do it today,” Peskov said.

He added that Gorbachev’s funeral would have “elements” of a state funeral, including a guard of honor, and that the state was helping with the organization.

Peskov said that Putin was departing for a working trip to Russia’s westernmost Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad.

Gorbachev will be buried at Moscow’s Novodevichy cemetery next to his wife, Raisa, after a farewell ceremony 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 the Soviet times.

Peskov wouldn’t elaborate how the ceremony will differ from a full-fledged state funeral.

Putin with Gorbachev in 2006. Dmitry Astakhov / AFP - Getty Images file

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 Gorbachev. The late leader has been lauded in the West for putting an end to the Cold War but is reviled by many at home for actions that led to the 1991 Soviet Union collapse and plunged millions into poverty.

While avoiding explicit personal criticism of Gorbachev, Putin in the past repeatedly blamed him for failing to secure written commitments from the West that would rule out NATO’s expansion eastward. The issue became a major irritant in Moscow's ties with the West for decades and fomented tensions that exploded when the Russian leader sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24.

In Wednesday’s telegram of condolences released by the Kremlin, Putin praised 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,” Putin said. “He deeply realized that reforms were necessary and tried to offer his solutions for the acute problems.”

The Kremlin’s ambivalent view of Gorbachev was mirrored by state television broadcasts, which paid tribute to Gorbachev as a historic figure but described his reforms as poorly planned and held him responsible for failing to safeguard the country’s interests in dialogues with the West.

The criticism echoed earlier assessments by Putin, who has famously lamented the collapse of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”

On Wednesday, Peskov said that Gorbachev was an “extraordinary” statesman who will “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,” Peskov said. “This romanticism failed to materialize. The bloodthirsty nature of our opponents has come to light, and it’s good that we realized that in time.”