Thousands Pay Respects to Last Soviet Leader

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Thousands of people in Russia have paid their last respects to Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader who brought the Cold War to a peaceful end.

Inside the Columned Hall of the House of Unions, sombre music is playing. A huge black and white portrait of Mr Gorbachev hangs from the balcony.

“The former president lies in an open coffin, flanked by a guard of honour.”

His daughter and other family members sit there as people lay flowers. There is a sea of red carnations.

It was here that Mr Gorbachev’s predecessors, Soviet leaders like Lenin, Stalin and Brezhnev, lay in state, too.

Many Russians blame Mikhail Gorbachev for launching reforms that caused economic chaos and for letting the Soviet Union fall apart.

But in the streets around the Hall of Unions, long lines of Muscovites – young and old – are queuing up to pay their respects.

Liberal politician Grigory Yavlinsky is there and he says: “These people came to Gorbachev to say ‘Thank you Mr Gorbachev. You gave us a chance, but we lost this chance.”

One man who is not here is Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin’s official explanation: No space in his schedule.

However, this is widely seen as a snub. Mr Putin once called the dissolution of the USSR the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century“.

Mr Gorbachev took power in 1985, introducing bold reforms and opening the USSR to the world.

But he was unable to prevent the collapse of the union in 1991, and many Russians blame him for the years of turmoil that ensued.

Outside Russia, he was widely respected, with the UN Secretary General António Guterres saying he had “changed the course of history“, and US President Joe Biden calling him a “rare leader.

Among those filing past the coffin on Saturday, was Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban – a close ally of Mr Putin’s. No other foreign leaders were known to have attended.

Another Putin ally – his predecessor Dmitry Medvedev – showed up, later to berate the West for seeking to break up Russia.

Others included fellow Nobel laureate Dmitry Muratov, who praised Mr Gorbachev for putting human rights “above the state“, and the ambassadors of the US, UK and Germany.

In fact, so many Russians were keen to pay their respects that the ceremony had to be extended.

However, Saturday’s ceremony is not a state funeral – a sign that the current Kremlin leadership has little interest in honouring Mr Gorbachev’s legacy.




BBC /Shakirat Sadiq

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