Who is Kirill, the Orthodox Christian leader loyal to Putin | Ukraine and Russia

Patriarch Kirill, leader of Russian Orthodox Christians since 2009, put his church at the service of President Vladimir Putin, with whom he shares his ambition for a strong and conservative Russia, supporting Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine.

For many years, the 75-year-old religious leader has not hesitated to appear blessing weapons and missiles, nor to justify the repression of the opposition and independent media.

Kirill scolded Pope Francis on Wednesday for a speech by the pontiff criticizing Kirill’s closeness to Putin.

The pope told the Italian newspaper “Corriere Della Sera” that the patriarch “cannot become Putin’s altar boy”. The Orthodox leader said in a statement that Francis had used “the wrong tone” in referring to him in that way. The Orthodox Church called the episode “regrettable”.

  • Read too : Russian Orthodox leader scolds Pope for speaking out about his relationship with Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin kisses Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russias, in celebration in 2013 (Photo: Reuters/Maxim Shemetov)

Kirill, like Putin, also sees Ukraine and Belarus as “brother” countries that should remain under the Moscow flag, not separate nations.

The patriarch has increased his statements of support for the Russian offensive in Ukraine. The European Commission wants to apply sanctions against him, as it has done with Putin and several Russian officials.

On February 27, three days into the invasion, Kirill had labeled “evil forces” critics of Russian ambitions in the neighboring country. In April, he called on the Russians to “stand together” to fight “enemies without and within”.

Pope Francis, leader of the Roman Catholic Church, spoke to Kirill in March, when he urged the patriarch to “not use politics, use Jesus”.

Kirill’s support for Vladimir Putin is not a surprise.

Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, at a historic meeting held in Cuba in 2016. Francis decided to cancel another meeting of the two due to Kirill’s pro-war positions – Photo: Reuters

Kirill, who in 2009 succeeded the late Patriarch Alexis – who rebuilt the Church after the fall of the USSR and its atheist system – has turned Russian Orthodoxy into a political-religious machine in the service of the Kremlin.

In 2012, the religious proclaimed that Putin’s reign is “a miracle of God” after the post-Soviet crisis of the 1990s, as reported by the AFP agency.

In the same year, an event exemplifies the conservative stance of this gray-bearded religious.

Four hooded youths, who were part of the punk group Pussy Riot, entered the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, the main one in Moscow, to sing a song against Putin.

Three of them were arrested and sentenced to severe prison terms.

Moscow: No deal for meeting between Pope and Putin

Moscow: No deal for meeting between Pope and Putin

Kirill rejected pleas for mercy and denounced the move as “blasphemy”. He assured that on occasion “the devil would laugh”. Since then, he regularly recalls that the orthodox believer must never protest.

For him, the large demonstrations after the arrest of the opponent Alexei Navalny in January 2021 revealed a “crisis among the young generation”.

Critic of homosexuality, he is an admirer of the law desired by Vladimir Putin that prohibits “propaganda of homosexuality to minors”, whose text is considered by numerous NGOs as an instrument of homophobia.

Unlike his grandfather, a priest victim of Stalinist repressions, Kirill – his civil name is Vladimir Gundiayev – found his place in the church apparatus during the Soviet era, under the regime.

In 1965, at age 19, he entered the seminary in his hometown of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and became a monk four years later.

He rose to the first diplomatic post of his church in 1971 and in 1989 he commanded the Department of Foreign Affairs, something akin to a Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

This trajectory has fueled suspicions of close relations with the KGB, the Soviet secret service. The apparatus of repression in the communist bloc at the time relied on the ecclesiastical institution to spy on the faithful.

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