BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — An enormous Russian mosaic started arriving at the largest Orthodox church in the Balkans Wednesday, in what Serbia's leaders hailed as a sign of "eternal" friendship between the two Slavic nations.
The first part of the 40-ton mosaic, personally approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin, arrived in 66 sections at the Saint Sava temple in Belgrade, one of the largest of Christian Orthodox churches in the world.
One section, featuring the head of Jesus, was put on display for people attending a service. When completed by the end of the year, the mosaic will cover some 1,230 square meters (13,230 square feet) of the inside of the church, whose construction started in 1985.
State TV reported the mosaic will cost 4 million euros ($4.3 million) and is partly financed by Russian energy giant Gazprom.
At a ceremony inside the sprawling church, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said the mosaic "will once again show our unity and togetherness with the Russian people and the Russian state."
"We must cherish eternal brotherhood and friendship with the Russian federation in these turbulent times when we need friends most of all," Dacic said.
Serbia is formally seeking European Union membership, but under the current populist leadership it has increasingly been turning to its traditional ally, Russia.