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Church: lobbying channels for Russia

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Recently appointed Metropolitan Hilarion of Budapest and Hungary is likely to coordinate the activity of a Ukrainian subsidiary of the Russian Orthodox Church through Feodor, Metropolitan of Mukachevo and Uzhgorod.

Metropolitan Feodor regularly visited Hungary “for personal business” during the past three months, and held confidential meetings with Metropolitan Hilarion, who instructed him on the branch of the Moscow church in Ukraine, as Feodor updated him on current religious and domestic political environment in Ukraine.

Russia uses clerical communication channels created by the ROC in Hungary to coordinate with the Hungarian government on countering the EU sanctions.

Metropolitan Hilarion of Budapest and Hungary (Grigoriy Alfeyev) was born in Moscow.

He was elected Bishop of Volokolamsk and headed the Department of External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church from March 31, 2009. With sweeping career at the ROC, heading the department of external church relations, he was very active in the media and close to Patriarch Kirill. Alfeyev was viewed as successor to the patriarch then. From 2010, he has been at the Board of Trustees of the Russkiy MirFoundation.

The Synod of ROC dismissed Alfeyev from the position of president of the DECR on June 7, 2022, and sent him to Hungary, as it steadfastly supports Russia and blocks sanctions against Russia on a regular basis, but the Moscow Patriarchate lacked parishes there.

Hilarion lost all his positions, however, including that at the Holy Synod.

Alfeyev’s resignation has been the talk for some years. This followed a complete failure in Ukrainian direction, as the ROC conservatives criticized him, and the ROC itself was disregarded by other churches. 

If we address this issue from the standpoint of current Moscow Patriarchate, the dismissal of the Church’s MFA head and his leaving for Budapest actually raises questions.

Hungary, first, is a safe heaven for the Russian hierarch, following the sanctions imposed on hierarchs and Russia’s isolation. Hilarion, unlike most of his colleagues, will be able to live in the EU, travel by plane, meet and influence other local churchmen. Hilarion owns a two-level penthouse with a pool and a barbecue area in the cooperative Mare Nostrum II (25 Repetidor Str.) on a hillside by the sea in Altea (province of Alicante, Spain).

Hilarion is also one of three cofounders at the Novoaleksandrovo homeowners organization at the urban district of Mytishchi, Moscow.

Hilarion enjoys the protection and financial support by Mikhail Botsko, a Spanish businessman born in Russia, who heads the Spanish branch of the Imperial Orthodox Palestinian Society, affiliated with Russian intelligence. Hilarion, therefore, is linked to Russian special agencies, as he performs the role of supervisor or mediator for the officials in Central and Eastern Europe.

From the beginning of war in Ukraine, Hilarion has never voiced support for Russian invasion of Ukraine, he avoided talking about that as much as he could. He has never visited Crimea for all 8 years of its seizure. As a true diplomat, he did his best not to have any formal grounds to be sanctioned and remain a handshake in Europe.

There are grounds to believe Alfeyev might have helped to exclude Patriarch Kirill from the 6th EU sanctions package. Despite the fact it was done by Orban, as he has his own reasons for it, Alfeyev himself might have initiated communication and ordered lobbying through Orban, as they met just before the vote.

There are also grounds to believe Hilarion, constantly staying in EU, has a power of attorney to take care of the property and accounts of the top Russian Orthodox Church leaders in European banks.

Hilarion may run personal errands for both Patriarch Kirill and the Kremlin, as he remains in the shadow. Deputy Prime Minister of Hungary Zsolt Semjén was awarded by Patriarch Kirill of the ROC through Metropolitan Hilarion on September 28 this year. The Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus’ Kirill rewarded the Hungarian political actor to recognize his contribution to the Diocese of Budapest and Hungary. This award came at the same time, in fact, as Patriarch Kirill was removed from EU sanctions. There is a high probability, therefore, Moscow coordinates Orban mainly through Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén.

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