Russian Honor guards stand near the coffin with the body of the late former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, during farewell ceremony Saturday at the Hall of Columns of the House of Trade Unions in Moscow. Photo by Maxim Shipenkov/EPA-EFE

Russian Honor guards stand near the coffin with the body of the late former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, during farewell ceremony Saturday at the Hall of Columns of the House of Trade Unions in Moscow. Photo by Maxim Shipenkov/EPA-EFE

Sept. 3 (UPI) — Thousands gathered in central Moscow on Saturday to honor Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union whose legacy remains complicated in Russia due to his role in helping end the Cold War.

Gorbachev died Tuesday at age 91 following a long illness. Saturday’s memorial service is likely to be remembered for its lack of opulence.

As expected, Russian President Vladimir Putin did not attend the ceremony after personally placing a bouquet of flowers on Gorbachev’s casket at a Moscow hospital on Thursday.

A day earlier, Putin called the last Soviet leader “a politician and statesman who had a huge impact on the course of world history.”

“He deeply understood that reforms were necessary,” Putin continued, according to The New York Times. “He strove to offer his own solutions to urgent problems.”

But while publicly praising Gorbachev, behind the scenes Putin was said to be desperate to erase his legacy. Political observers believe Putin aspires to bring back the communist rule that defined the Soviet era.

The funeral for Gorbachev was notably restrained and featured none of the ceremonial flamboyance that his Soviet predecessors received following their deaths.

The Kremlin announced beforehand that Gorbachev would be honored with “elements of a state funeral,” including an honor guard.

There were no artillery salutes.

The Russian government did not declare a national day of mourning Saturday; the memorial was not televised on state TV, and there was no public procession or mourners in the streets.

The only foreign dignitary to attend the ceremony was Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Gorbachev’s casket was placed beneath a Russian flag inside the grand hall of the House of the Unions, where the lights were dimmed and classical music played as attendees paid their last respects.

A band played the Russian anthem.

The hall is the same site where funerals were held for former Soviet leaders Vladimir Lenin in 1924 and Josef Stalin in 1953.

Gorbachev’s family sat alongside the casket as several prominent Russians filed through the room, including former Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, and pop singer All Pugacheva. Dmitri Kiselyov, a news show host and one of Gorbachev’s primary critics, also attended.

Gorbachev was expected to be buried next to his wife in Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetery.

Relations between Russia and the United States has become especially strained by the ongoing war in Ukraine and the February arrest of American basketball star Britney Griner, who was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison last month on trumped-up drug charges.

Gorbachev never made a public statement about the conflict, but his foundation made calls for peace negotiations before his death.

Gorbachev became the secretary-general of the Communist Party’s Central Committee in 1985 and in March 1990 was elected president of the Soviet Union, a seat he would resign the following year. The government dissolved under Boris Yeltsin in 1999.

Gorbachev was known as a reformist who laid the groundwork for Russia to become a democracy at the turn of the 21st century. At a summit in Iceland with U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1986, Gorbachev proposed that both the United States and the Soviet Union eliminate all long-range missiles, which resulted in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in1987 and paved the road to the end of the Cold War.

Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.

Former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev speaks to a crowd at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., on May 6, 1992. Gorbachev died on Tuesday at the age of 91 following a severe and prolonged illness, Russian state media said. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

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