By Paul Goble
One of the mysteries of how a young churchman, Tikhon Shevkunov, became a friend and advisor to Vladimir Putin may now have been dispelled. It turns out that in the 1990s, Tikhon was close to Lt. Gen. Nikolay Leonov, who rose through the SVR before heading the KGB’s Analytic Department.
Now, Leonov is dead, Putin is president, and Tikhon is a metropolitan and widely labelled as the Russian president’s spiritual advisor. But if Tikhon and Leonov were close, it is entirely possible that the KGB general brought the Orthodox priest into contact with the KGB officer and rising Russian politician (ahilla.ru/monah-i-general/).
When Leonov died in 2019, Tikhon said that the KGB general has “taught [him] how to really love Russia. He was a real knight. Of course, at some point he was a communist, but I am convinced,” the churchman said, “that this was not the main thing for him. Ideas of justice and equality were what sincerely attracted him into the party in which he was a member.”
“But above all, [Leonov] was a Russian man, a knight of Russia,” the churchman said. Tikhon’s closeness to Putin makes far more sense if the rising Orthodox official was already close to and being groomed for bigger things by then more senior KGB officers who likely would have seen the priest as a useful adjunct to Putin’s career.