Mikhail Gorbachev funeral: is Putin attending, is it a state funeral and where is it held?

Mikhail Gorbachev was the last leader of the Soviet Union

Thousands of mourners have lined up to pay tribute to former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev following his death this week.

The funeral of Gorbachev is taking place in Moscow today (3 September).

During his time as leader of the Soviet Union he launched drastic reforms that helped end the Cold War and precipitated the break-up of the country.

He died in a hospital in Moscow at the age of 91 this week.

When and where is Gorbachev’s funeral being held?

It is taking place in Moscow today (3 September).

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He will be buried at Moscow’s Novodevichy cemetery next to his wife, Raisa, following a farewell ceremony at the Pillar Hall of the House of the Unions, an opulent 18th century mansion near the Kremlin that has served as the venue for state funerals since Soviet times.

At the farewell event, hundreds of mourners passed by Mr Gorbachev’s open casket flanked by honorary guards, laying flowers as solemn music played.

Is Vladimir Putin attending the funeral?

The current Russian President Vladimir Putin will not be attending the funeral.

On Thursday (1 September), Mr Putin privately laid flowers at Mr Gorbachev’s open coffin at the Moscow hospital where he died.

The Kremlin said the president’s busy schedule would prevent him from attending the funeral.

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Asked what specific business will keep Mr Putin busy on Saturday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the president will have a series of working meetings, an international phone call, and needs to prepare for a business forum in Russia’s Far East he is scheduled to attend next week.

US ambassador to Russia John Joseph Sullivan (2nd L) attends a memorial service for Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, at the Column Hall of the House of Unions in Moscow, on September 3, 2022. - Last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev will be laid to rest Saturday in a Moscow ceremony, but without the fanfare of a state funeral and with the glaring absence of President Vladimir Putin. (Photo by Alexander NEMENOV / AFP) (Photo by ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty Images)

Is Gorbachev having a state funeral?

The Kremlin has not declared it a state funeral - which would have required Mr Putin to attend.

World leaders would have also had to be invited, at a time when hostilities between Russia and the West remains high following the invasion of Ukraine.

Despite the choice of the prestigious venue, the Kremlin stopped short of calling it a state funeral, with spokesman Mr Peskov saying the ceremony will have “elements” of one, such as honorary guards, and the government’s assistance in organising it.

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He would not describe how it will differ from a fully-fledged state funeral.

The Kremlin’s refusal to declare a state funeral reflects its uneasiness about the legacy of Mr Gorbachev, who has been venerated worldwide for bringing down the Iron Curtain but reviled by many at home for the Soviet collapse and the ensuing economic meltdown that plunged millions into poverty.

The modest ceremony contrasts with a lavish 2007 state funeral given to Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first post-Soviet leader who anointed Mr Putin as his preferred successor and set the stage for him to win the presidency by stepping down.

Who attended the farwell ceremony?

Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council chaired by Mr Putin who served as Russia’s president in 2008-2012, attended the farewell ceremony.

Some foreign leaders did attend the funeral, including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has often been critical of the Western sanctions against Russia.

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US ambassador to Russia John Joseph Sullivan also attended.

What has Putin said about Gorbachev’s death?

Mr Putin, who once lamented the collapse of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”, has avoided explicit personal criticism of Mr Gorbachev but has repeatedly blamed him for failing to secure written commitments from the West that would rule out Nato’s expansion east.

In a carefully phrased letter of condolence released on Wednesday avoiding explicit praise or criticism, Mr Putin described Mr Gorbachev as a man who left “an enormous impact on the course of world history”,

Mr Putin added: “He led the country during difficult and dramatic changes, amid large-scale foreign policy, economic and society challenges.

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“He deeply realised that reforms were necessary and tried to offer his solutions for the acute problems.”

The Kremlin’s ambivalence about Mr Gorbachev was reflected in state television broadcasts, which described his worldwide acclaim and grand expectations generated by his reforms, but held him responsible for plunging the country into political turmoil and economic woes and failing to properly defend the country’s interests in talks with the West.