Putin pays private tribute to Gorbachev but won’t attend his funeral, Kremlin says

Russian President Vladimir Putin bowing his head before the coffin and body of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev
Russian President Vladimir Putin bows his head before the coffin of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow.
(Russian Pool Photo)

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday paid tribute to Mikhail Gorbachev but will not attend the former Soviet leader’s funeral, a decision reflecting the Kremlin’s ambivalence about Gorbachev’s legacy.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that, before departing for a working trip to Russia’s westernmost Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad, Putin visited a Moscow hospital where Gorbachev’s body is being kept before Saturday’s funeral to lay flowers at his coffin.

“Regrettably, the president’s working schedule wouldn’t allow him to do that on Saturday, so he decided to do that today,” Peskov said in a conference call with reporters.


State television showed Putin walking to Gorbachev’s open coffin and putting a bouquet of red roses next to it. He stood in silence for a few moments, bowed his head, touched the coffin, crossed himself and walked away.

Gorbachev, who died Tuesday, 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 Soviet times.

Asked whether Gorbachev would be given a state funeral, Peskov said it would have “elements” of one, such as honorary guards, and the government would help organize them. He wouldn’t elaborate how the ceremony would differ from a full-fledged state funeral.

Mikhail S. Gorbachev, Soviet leader who knocked down the walls between East and West, dies at 91.

Aug. 30, 2022

Putin’s decision to pay a private visit to the hospital while staying away from Saturday’s public farewell ceremony, combined with the uncertainty surrounding the funeral’s status, reflects the Kremlin’s divided thinking on Gorbachev’s legacy. 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 fall of the Soviet Union and plunged millions into poverty.

If the Kremlin had declared a state funeral for Gorbachev, it would have made it awkward for Putin to snub the official ceremony. A state funeral would also oblige the Kremlin to invite foreign leaders to attend, something that Moscow would probably be reluctant to do amid the tensions with the West over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.


Although 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 the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s expansion eastward — 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 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.”

Sergei Markov, a pro-Kremlin political analyst, observed that Putin’s decision to pay tribute privately to Gorbachev reflected both “security problems and [the] utter unpopularity of Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies.” At the same time, Putin wanted to show his respect to the former head of state, Markov added.

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 dialogue 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’s belief that the Cold War’s end would start “an eternal romance” with the West failed to materialize, Peskov said.