Switzerland’s Sonntagszeitung and Le Matin Dimanche newspapers have studied de-classified archives to discover that Patriarch Kirill (Vladimir Gundyaev), head of the Russian Orthodox Church, used to spy for the KGB in Geneva in the 1970s under an alias of Mikhaylov.
Gundyaev, 24, skiing in Switzerland in 1971. Photo: Twitter
In 1971, 24-year-old Gundyaev was granted permission to move to Geneva to represent the Russian Orthodox Church at the World Council of Churches. Reports stored in the federal archives that were studied by Sonntagszeitung confirm that the young priest was working for the KGB.
Gundyaev’s file has 37 records between July 1969 and February 1989, most of which only related to his applications for visas and entry into Switzerland. There are two records noting that the priest is placed on the list of Soviet officials “who had measures taken against them”. It is not clear which measures were applied.
“We were told: beware of these priests because they are KGB agents. I always had a feeling in conversations with Kirill that he was looking for information. He was very friendly but asked a lot of questions about exile and clergy members,” an anonymous source told the newspaper.
German theologian Gerhard Besier wrote in his book the following entry: “the KGB wanted to influence the World Council of Churches in the 1970s and 1980s to make it stop criticising religious freedom restrictions in the Soviet Union and chastise the US and its allies instead,” Sonntagszeitung notes.
Moreover, the newspaper notes that Gundyaev’s nephew currently serves as head priest of a church in a Geneva neighbourhood. He told Sonntagszeitung that his uncle likely was not an agent but was placed “under the KGB’s strict supervision”.
Patriarch Kirill and the Russian Orthodox Church declined requests to comment on this investigation. The World Council of Churches told Sonntagszeitung that it had no information about the issue.
Novaya Gazeta reported that Patriarch Kirill still owns a country house in the Swiss mountains which he has had since serving in Geneva. According to the newspaper, a Swiss woman gifted him the property. In February 2020, Open Media discovered that Gundyaev had a diamond-encrusted Swiss watch.