Catholic World News News Feature
Confirmed: Russian Patriarch Worked with KGB September 22, 2000
[The following story was prepared and produced by the Keston News Service. It is reproduced here under the terms of a special agreement between the Keston Institute and CWN; further reproduction is not permitted without the permission of the Keston Institute. Readers who are interested in learning more should check the Keston web site: www.keston.org.]
[After studying the archives of the KGB, the Keston News Service has confirmed the accuracy of longstanding allegations that the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church collaborated with the Soviet secret police.]
Thursday September 21, 2000 KNS RUSSIA: THE PATRIARCH AND THE KGB by Felix Corley, Keston News Service In response to the denial by a senior official of the Moscow Patriarchate that Patriarch Alexei II had collaborated with the KGB during the Soviet era, Keston News Service has reviewed all the available documentary evidence from the various archives of the KGB, and concluded that long- standing allegations that the Patriarch and other senior bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church collaborated with the KGB are based on fact. The Moscow Patriarchate's official spokesman Father Vsevolod Chaplin issued the denial in an interview with the Russian news agency Interfax on September 20 while responding to an article that appeared earlier that day in the London daily paper The Times (which was mainly about corruption within today's Orthodox Church, not about the Patriarch's past ties to the KGB.) Allegations Alexei had collaborated with the KGB were "absolutely unsubstantiated," Father Vsevolod claimed. "There is no data indicating that Patriarch Alexei II was an associate of the special services, and no classified documents bear his signature." He added: "I do not think that direct dialogue between the current patriarch and the KGB took place." He conceded only that "all bishops' had to communicate with the Council for Religious Affairs, which forwarded all its materials to the KGB." Interfax declared that Father Vsevolod "found it difficult to respond" to questions about the source of reports about Patriarch Alexei's KGB codename "Drozdov," but accused Father Gleb Yakunin (who left the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate some years ago) as "one of the authors of these libels." Father Vsevolod believed that those accusing the Patriarch of having collaborated with the KGB were those determined to weaken the position of Christianity in general and the Russian Orthodox Church in particular. Despite Father Vsevolod's vigorous denials, KGB material that Keston has seen in Tallinn reveals that Alexei was recruited by the Estonian KGB on February 28, 1958, just days after his 29th birthday. The report makes clear that the KGB viewed Alexei, then still a priest, as a high-flier. It had already earmarked him as a future bishop of the Russian Orthodox diocese of Tallinn and Estonia. He was appointed to this post less than three years later. Although referring to him only as "Drozdov" (it was very unusual in internal KGB documents for any person, whether agent or victim, to be referred to by name before the late 1980s), it is clear that Alexei Ridiger, born in Tallinn on February 23, 1929, is the subject. No other priest of the Estonian diocese matches the information in the document. The choice of the codename "Drozdov" is also a clue: Alexei graduated from Leningrad Theological Academy in 1953 with a thesis on the 19th-century Metropolitan of Moscow Filaret Drozdov. Other documents from the central KGB archives in Moscow (now held by one of the KGB's successors, the FSB) reveal some of the tasks Alexei was assigned as an agent. These documents-- which were produced by the 4th department of the KGB Fifth Directorate (the department that controlled religious affairs)-- were seen by a number of researchers after the archives were briefly opened in the wake of the failed August 1991 coup, but access was then closed again after the Russian Orthodox leadership protested about the extent of the revelations. Unfortunately, researchers did not reveal the full contents of each report, confining themselves to brief and tantalizing extracts from the titles and text of the reports. A 1983 report from the central KGB archives, for example, reveals that when the monks of the Pochayev monastery in western Ukraine were complaining about harsh treatment (including the beating to death of a monk) by the KGB and the local abbot, Yakov Panchuk, in 1981-2, Alexei was one of the two Russian Orthodox leaders sent down there to conduct "educational work" among the monks. In February 1988, exactly thirty years after his recruitment as an agent, Alexei was given an award by the KGB in recognition of his long service for them. All senior clerical appointments in the Soviet era were made by the KGB and mediated through the government's Council for Religious Affairs (the public face of the 4th department of the KGB Fifth Directorate)-- and many junior appointments besides. Alexei's collaboration was nothing exceptional-- almost all senior leaders of all officially-recognized religious faiths-- including the Catholics, Baptists, Adventists, Muslims, and Buddhists-- were recruited KGB agents. Indeed, the annual report that describes Alexei's recruitment also covers numerous other agents, some of them in the Estonian Lutheran Church. Although in public the KGB never acknowledged its role in controlling religious affairs in the Soviet Union, in private it made no secret of it. The KGB leadership approved a briefing paper No. 48s "On the use by the organs of the KGB of the possibilities of the Russian Orthodox Church in counter- espionage measures within the country and abroad" on July 28, 1970. In 1982 the 4th department of the KGB Fifth Directorate boasted that through "leading agents, the ROC, Georgian and Armenian Churches hold firmly to positions of loyalty" to the Soviet state. The documents Keston has seen are undoubtedly genuine and can relate only to Alexei, matching as they do so closely his identity and his known travels. Keston has not seen the document he would have signed on being recruited nor the archive record card drawn up for him (such as is available for Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilya, KGB codename "Iverieli"). All such material was removed by the USSR KGB from the Estonian KGB archives in the late 1980s and if it still exists is undoubtedly in the archives of the Russian FSB. Given the genuineness of the documents, the only doubt remains as to how far Alexei was aware that the officers he was working with represented the KGB. However, it would be naive to believe that Alexei could have attained such high office in a religious organization tolerated by the Soviet state without being aware of the true affiliation of those he had to report to. In view of the compelling evidence that Alexei was recruited as a KGB agent, it remains a mystery why such a senior figure in the Moscow Patriarchate would deny it rather than initiate a serious debate as to whether such collaboration had been inevitable and whether or not it had caused the Russian Orthodox Church or others any harm.