Putin will not attend Mikhail Gorbachev funeral: Kremlin

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Russian President Vladimir Putin will not attend the funeral of the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev due to scheduling issues, his spokesman said on Thursday.

"The farewell ceremony and funeral will take place on September 3 but unfortunately the president's work schedule will not allow him (to attend)," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Peskov said that Putin had paid his last respects to Gorbachev at the hospital where he died on Tuesday, aged 91.

Russian state TV showed Putin placing a bouquet of red roses near Gorbachev's open casket in a big empty hall before pausing for a moment of silence.

Putin bowed his head, briefly laid his hand on the casket then made the sign of the cross.

Gorbachev's funeral ceremony will be held on Saturday in the Moscow Hall of Columns, historically used for funeral services of high officials, including Joseph Stalin in 1953.

The same day, Gorbachev will be buried at the prestigious Novodevichy cemetery in Moscow next to his wife Raisa, who died in 1999.

Peskov said that there will be "elements of a state funeral" for Gorbachev, including a guard of honour, and that the ceremony will be organised with the help of the state.

Gorbachev changed the course of history by triggering the demise of the Soviet Union and was one of the great figures of the 20th century.

His reforms as Soviet leader transformed his country and allowed Eastern Europe to free itself from Soviet rule.

While the changes he set in motion saw him lionised in the West, they earned him the scorn of many Russians after the country was plunged into economic chaos and saw its international influence decline.

Putin, who called the Soviet collapse the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century, has spent much of his more than 20-year rule reversing parts of Gorbachev's legacy.

By cracking down on independent media and political opposition, critics say, Putin has worked to undo Gorbachev's efforts to bring "glasnost", or openness, to the Soviet system.

And with the launch earlier this year of a military campaign in Ukraine, he has sought to reassert Russian influence in one of the countries that won its independence when the Soviet Union fell apart.

Gorbachev's death triggered an outpouring of tributes from the West but reaction was muted in Russia, where many blamed him for the loss of the country's status as a global superpower.

In a letter of condolences published by the Kremlin, Putin said Gorbachev "was a politician and statesman who had a huge impact on the course of world history".

"He led our country during a period of complex, dramatic changes, large-scale foreign policy, economic and social challenges," Putin added.

bur/rox