Just before departing for a working trip to Russia’s western-most Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad, Putin visited a Moscow hospital where Gorbachev’s body was being kept before Saturday’s funeral.
Russian state television showed Putin walking to Gorbachev’s open casket 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.
“Regrettably, the president’s working schedule wouldn’t allow him to do that on Saturday, so he decided to do that today,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a conference call with reporters.
Gorbachev, who died 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 iconic mansion near the Kremlin that has served as the venue for state funerals since Soviet times.
The Kremlin stopped short of declaring a state funeral, with Peskov saying the ceremony will have “elements” of one, such as honorary guards, and the government will help organize it. He wouldn’t elaborate, however, on how the ceremony will differ from a full-fledged state funeral.
In Wednesday’s letter of condolence 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.”
The Russian public has remained divided over Gorbachev’s legacy, with some praising him for ending the Cold War and offering political freedoms after seven decades of totalitarian rule and others accusing him of betrayal.
Russian businessman and opposition activist Mikhail Khodorkovsky hailed Gorbachev for dismantling the repressive communist system.
“In Russia, Gorbachev will be remembered, on the one hand as the man who was able to give the country freedom; on the other hand, he will be remembered as the man who was not able to help Russia make use of this freedom,” Khodorkovsky, who lives in London, said in an interview with The Associated Press.