VLADIMIR Putin snubbed the funeral of Mikhail Gorbachev, last leader of the Soviet Union, as he was "too busy" while thousands of Russians said goodbye to leader who helped end the Cold War.
Mourners lined up Saturday to pay tribute to Gorbachev, who launched drastic reforms that helped finally bring down the Iron Curtain.
His reforms saw the breakup of the corrupt, bloated and brutal Soviet Union – something which Putin himself has bemoaned as a "genuine tragedy".
And it might be this which saw Putin snub the memorial and his own regime refuse to declare a state funeral.
Gorbachev was venerated worldwide for bringing down the Iron Curtain – stepping the world back from nuclear Armageddon.
But he is reviled by many at home for the Soviet collapse and the ensuing economic meltdown that plunged millions of Russians into poverty.
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Putin privately laid flowers at Gorbachev's coffin at a Moscow hospital where he died during the week.
The Kremlin insisted the presidents busy schedule would prevent him from attending the funeral.
Vlad will instead have a series of working meetings, an international phone call and will be preparing for a business forum.
But as the tyrant – who has seen Russia become an international pariah hid away – thousands of his citizens paid tribute to Gorbachev.
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The coffin of Gorbachev, who died Tuesday at the age of 91, was brought to Moscow's Novodevichy cemetery, where he will be buried next to his wife Raisa.
It followed 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 Saturday, mourners passed by Gorbachev's open casket flanked by honorary guards, laying flowers as solemn music played.
Gorbachev's daughter, Irina, and his two granddaughters sat beside the coffin.
The devoted dad of one, who was often pictured with his “princess” wife Raisa at his side, had brokered a deal with US counterpart Ronald Reagan to end the arms race in 1988.
And this was key to thawing the chilling nuclear terror of the Cold War.
But 34-years later and as he lay dying of kidney failure, Putin laid his legacy to waste with the brutal attack on Ukraine, the homeland of Gorbachev’s beloved wife’s father.
Irna planted a tender kiss on her dad's forehead as she said goodbye the giant – whose shadow still casts across international politics.
The grand, chandeliered hall lined by columns hosted balls for the nobility under the czars and served as a venue for high-level meetings and congresses along with state funerals during Soviet times.
Upon entering the building, mourners saw honor guards flanking a large photo of Gorbachev standing with a broad smile.
It was a reminder of the cheerfulness he brought to the Soviet leadership after a series grim predecessors.
The turnout was large enough that the viewing was extended for two more hours beyond the stated two hours.
Despite the choice of the prestigious site for the farewell ceremony, the Kremlin stopped short of calling it a state funeral.
Putin's spokesman and top crony Dmitry Peskov said the ceremony will have elements of one.
Declaring a state funeral for Gorbachev would have obliged Putin to attend it and would have required Moscow to invite foreign leaders.
And this is something that the Kremlin was apparently reluctant to do amid soaring tensions with the West after sending troops to Ukraine.
Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia's Security Council chaired by Putin who served as Russia's president in 2008-2012, showed up at the farewell ceremony.
He released a message afterwards bemoaning the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
He accused the US and its allies of trying to engineer Russias breakup, a policy he described as "a chess game with Death".
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who often has been critical of the Western sanctions against Russia, attended the farewell on Saturday.
The US, British, German and other Western ambassadors also attended.
The relatively modest ceremony contrasted with a lavish 2007 state funeral given to Boris Yeltsin, Russia's first post-Soviet leader who anointed Putin as his preferred successor and set the stage for him to win the presidency by stepping down.
The farewell viewing was shadowed by the awareness that the openness Gorbachev championed has been stifled under Putin.
The Kremlin's ambivalence about Gorbachev was reflected in state television broadcasts.
They described his worldwide acclaim and grand expectations generated by his reforms, but held him responsible for plunging the country into political turmoil and economic woes and failing to properly defend the country's interests in talks with the West.
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