Patriarch Aleksiy II of Moscow and All Russia has passed away at the age of 79. Born Aleksei Ridiger in Tallinn to a Baltic German father and a Russian mother, Aleksiy rose through the ranks of the Russian Orthodox Church with the backing of the KGB. His role in the pre-Gorbachev era consisted of helping the Soviet state keep the Church under its firm control. He was elected Patriarch in 1990. Aleksiy was an outspoken supporter of Orthodox unity, but was much more ambivalent towards the unity of the Christian churches (BBC).
In particular, he clashed with the Catholic Church over the issue of the latter's proselytisation of Russians, claiming all Russia and Ukraine to be the "canonical territory" of the Russian Orthodox Church. Alexiy also provided Church backing for the process of integration between Belarus and Russia launched by Aliksandr Lukašenka and Boris Yeltsin.