Patriarch Kirill blesses Putin’s rockets and lives in luxury – politics abroad

He is one of the closest confidants of Kremlin dictator Vladimir Putin (69): Patriarch Kirill I.

In 2006, the personal fortune of the head of the Russian Orthodox Church was estimated at 4 billion euros. Researchers link him to the KGB. According to Orthodox bloggers, he likes to ski in the mountains and fast cars. Last Wednesday, Brussels proposed sanctions against him.

Kirill, who in 2009 succeeded the late Patriarch Alexios, who rebuilt the Church after the collapse of the USSR and its atheist system, transformed Russian Orthodoxy into a veritable politico-religious machine at the service of the Kremlin.


Patriarch Cyril and Russian President Vladimir Putin visit Saint Panteleimon Monastery on Mount AthosFoto: picture alliance / Kremlin Pool

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Patriarch Cyril and Russian President Vladimir Putin visit Saint Panteleimon Monastery on Mount AthosFoto: photo alliance / Kremlin swimming pool


Russian President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill before laying flowers at the monument to Minin and Pozharsky in Red Square in Moscow on National Unity Day (2012)Foto: picture alliance / dpa

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill before laying flowers at the monument to Minin and Pozharsky in Red Square in Moscow on National Unity Day (2012)Photo: photo alliance / dpa

“We don’t want to fight anyone, Russia has never attacked anyone. It’s a miracle that a powerful and great country didn’t attack anyone, it just defended its borders,” the patriarch said of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

► Three days after the first military actions, he describes his country’s opponents as “forces of evil” and even blesses the Russian army.

Who is the Orthodox Patriarch blessing Putin’s rockets?

Patriarch Kirill was born Vladimir Gundyaev in 1946 and was enthroned in 2009.

Most Westerners know little about Cyril. According to his passport, Vladimir Gunyaev was born in Leningrad in 1946 in the family of an Orthodox priest. He graduated with honors from the Leningrad Spiritual Academy in 1969.

In 1970, he earned his master’s degree and, after several minor positions, was appointed personal secretary to Mitropolit Nikodim, the church’s external relations officer.


Patriarch Cyril during a divine liturgy in the Cathedral of the Resurrection of ChristFoto: picture alliance/dpa/TASS

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Patriarch Cyril during a divine liturgy in the Cathedral of the Resurrection of ChristPhoto: picture alliance/dpa/TASS

► Since then, Cyril has been the face of the Orthodox Church on all foreign trips to Western Europe. In 1989 he was appointed head of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate. For many years he thus directed the foreign policy of the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1991 he was appointed Metropolitan Bishop of Smolensk and Kaliningrad.

On January 27, 2009, he was enthroned as the 16th Patriarch of “Moscow and All Russia”.

Nickname “Mikhailov”

Cyril’s spectacular career as a church representative to the World Council of Churches in Geneva and later as chairman of the Church’s External Relations Department has led several scholars to link him to Soviet intelligence services.

He was known by the nickname “Mikhailov” while working for the Soviet KGB secret service. From 1972, Kyrill/Gundyaev/Mikhailov would have dealt more and more with the countries of the Middle East.

Historian and human rights activist Felix Corley managed to prove the link in 2018. His testimony is summarized in an article titled The Mikhailov Files: Patriarch Kirill and the KGB.

His sources: Documents from the KGB archives in Moscow, which, he writes, “were consulted by a number of researchers after the archives were briefly opened after the failed coup in August 1991, but the Access was then closed again after Russian Orthodox leaders protested the scale of the revelations.


Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (center), then Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (2nd from right) with his wife Svetlana and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill (2nd from left).Foto: ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP

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Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (center), then Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (2nd from right) with his wife Svetlana and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill (2nd from left) attend the ceremony of inauguration of Vladimir Putin as the new Russian President from the Kremlin in MoscowPhoto: ALEXEY DRUZHININE/AFP

The “metropolitan tobacco”

In the mid-1990s, with the support of President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, the Department of Church External Relations headed by Cyril was granted the privilege of duty-free import of alcohol and cigarettes .

The Russian Orthodox Church thus became the leading importer of cigarettes in Russia. It is not known to date what profits have been made and what this money has been spent on.

The September 1996 issue (#34) of the Moscow News reported that under the tax-exempt charitable banner of the Orthodox Church, Kirill arranged the importation of heavily taxed goods, primarily tobacco.

The metropolitans of Smolensk and Kaliningrad at the time confirmed the import of highly “non-Christian” products. In 1997, Kirill admitted to importing alcohol and tobacco, but claimed that the Russian Orthodox Church could not refuse “humanitarian aid”.

According to Russia’s largest independent newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, the Russian Orthodox Church and Kirill’s private foundation “Nika” were non-profit organizations that imported eight billion cigarettes into Russia in 1996 alone.

► Kirill’s “ecclesiastical” business snowballed as legal competitors couldn’t keep up with his low prices for tobacco and alcohol. Importers, of course, were driven out of the market because they couldn’t match Kyrill’s prices after paying the necessary government duties.

The Novaya Gazeta called Cyril the “metropolitan of tobacco”…

Die Phantom »-Armbanduhr

Another feature of his life is a Swiss Breguet wristwatch worth around 30,000 euros, known as the “ghost watch”. In 2012, the head of the Russian Church was photographed wearing this watch at an event.

By the time the photo was posted on the church’s website, the Breguet was no longer in view, but the reflection of the gold timepiece could be seen through the reflection of the table – nicely polished – on which Cyril was sitting.


Kyrill with a luxury watch... and (after retouching) without a watch on his wristFoto: Patriarchia.ru

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Kyrill with a luxury watch… and (after retouching) without a watch on his wristPhoto: Patriarchia.ru

︎ Kyrill denied ever wearing the watch, but eventually the church admitted to retouching the watch from the photo and apologized. He was forced to admit that she was his. He claimed the watch was a gift from a wealthy friend, that it had been sold and the money had been donated to charity.

Today, Brussels is proposing to sanction Patriarch Cyril for his support for the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine. Will the sixth package of sanctions against Russia affect him as well, or will the global power of the Church help him avoid it?

A brief history of the Russian Church

Under the tsars, the Russian Orthodox Church was the state church. Criticism of the tsars was taboo. The big break was the October Revolution (1917) – from then on Christians were persecuted and put in gulags.

The collapse of the communist dictatorship (1991) meant a return to former splendor for the church – and a former closeness to the state. The number of monasteries has increased from 20 to 950, every day three new churches are consecrated in Russia.

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