Thousands of mourners pay respect to former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev as Vladimir Putin stays away

US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan attends a memorial service for Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow today. Photo: Alexander Nemenov via Reuters

Thousands of mourners lined up today to pay tribute to former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who launched drastic reforms that helped end the Cold War and precipitated the breakup of the Soviet Union.

However the farewell was snubbed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin’s refusal to declare a state funeral reflects its uneasiness about the legacy of 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.

On Thursday, Putin privately laid flowers at Gorbachev’s coffin at a Moscow hospital where he died. The Kremlin said the president’s busy schedule would prevent him from attending the funeral.

Asked what specific business will keep Putin busy on Saturday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters 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 that he is scheduled to attend next week.

Gorbachev, who died on Tuesday at the age of 91, 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 ceremony today, mourners passed by Gorbachev’s open casket flanked by honorary guards, laying flowers as solemn music played.

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