BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia on Wednesday named Russian President Vladimir Putin's billionaire friend — a man who is on a U.S. sanctions list over Ukraine — as the Balkan country's honorary consul in St. Petersburg.
The office of Serbia's pro-Russian President Tomislav Nikolic said Gennady Timchenko was inaugurated to the ceremonial post in the second-largest Russian city.
Timchenko, Putin's former judo partner, has lived in Switzerland and has dual Russian-Finnish nationality. His personal wealth is estimated at some $7.6 billion, earned mostly in the energy business. He has also been probed in the U.S. in an alleged money-laundering scheme.
Nikolic said at the ceremony in St. Petersburg that the appointment reflects long-standing friendly relations between Russia and Serbia, two traditional Slavic allies.
Timchenko thanked Nikolic for the post, saying he "would be glad to help both Serbia and Russia in finding new ways to develop our relationship."
In his speech, Nikolic also praised Putin as a "great visionary who secures better and peaceful future" for Russian citizens and who represents "the pillar for many not so powerful nations threatened by force."
Serbia formally wants to join the 28-nation European Union but has refused to impose Western-backed sanctions against the Kremlin for its role in the Ukrainian crisis. The appointment of Timchenko could further complicate Serbia's standing in the West.