Head of Russian Orthodox Church ‘was a spy for the KGB’
The head of the Russian Orthodox Church worked as a spy for the KGB in the 1970s, according to newly declassified Swiss records.
Between ski trips to the Alps, Patriarch Kirill reportedly used a posting to Switzerland’s World Council of Churches in 1971 to collect information for the notorious Soviet spy agency.
Now a close ally of Vladimir Putin, the Russian president and also a former KGB agent, Kirill arrived in Geneva as an ambitious 24-year-old looking to make his mark for the Soviet Union.
During the Cold War, religion in the USSR was treated with suspicion and used mainly as a tool to promote the Kremlin’s worldview. Clergymen were often required to sign up to become KGB agents before they were allowed to travel abroad.
Using the codename “Mikhailov”, Kirill’s mission was to manipulate other members of the council into criticising the United States, according to the Swiss newspapers Sonntagszeitung and Le Matin Dimanche, which quoted declassified police records.
“I always had a feeling in conversations with Kirill that he was looking for information,” one anonymous Russian exile who lived in Geneva told the papers. “He was very friendly but asked a lot of questions about exile and clergy members.”
But he also found time to relax. Photographs from his time in Geneva in the 1970s show Kirill enjoying time on the slopes.
Le Matin Dimanche said Kirill has been a regular visitor to Switzerland throughout his life, indulging his passion for skiing and for Swiss watches worth tens of thousands of pounds, which he has been photographed wearing.
"Between religious diplomacy, espionage and finances, Kirill has continuously been drawn to the Alps and the shores of Lake Geneva," it said.
Kirill’s nephew, also a Russian Orthodox priest, has denied the reports. Neither the Russian Orthodox Church nor the World Council of Churches, an umbrella group of 352 different churches, have commented.
However, the records appear to confirm long-held suspicions among Russian opposition activists that Kirill has deep-rooted ties with the Russian and Soviet intelligence services.
When he became Russian leader in 2000, Putin - a former KGB colonel - made a point of bringing the Russian Orthodox Church and the state more closely together.
These days, many Russian activists consider the Russian Orthodox Church to be an extension of the state and its security services. Kirill became the church’s leader in 2009.
Kirill staunchly backed Putin’s invasion of Ukraine last February, using sermons to encourage Russians to fight to defend “the Fatherland”. He described dying on the battlefield as a sacrifice that "washes away all your sins".
Some Russian commentators have even suggested that he acts as an unofficial adviser to Putin.