Serbia has named Gennady Timchenko, a billionaire ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin hit with U.S. sanctions over the Ukraine conflict, its honorary consul in St. Petersburg.
Timchenko appeared alongside Serbia's pro-Russian president, Tomislav Nikolic, at the opening of the new honorary consulate in Russia's imperial-era capital on October 12 and called his new status a "great honor."
"It will be a pleasure to help Russia and Serbia find new areas for growth," Timchenko said at the opening ceremony.
Serbia is seeking to join the European Union but has refused to impose sanctions targeting Russia, with which Belgrade has close historical and cultural links, over its annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and backing of armed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Timchenko, a founder of the oil-trading firm Gunvor, was among numerous Russian officials and wealthy Putin associates sanctioned by Washington in response to the Ukraine conflict.
The U.S. Treasury Department alleges that Putin "has investments" in Gunvor, which has a head office in Geneva and a registered office in Cyprus. The company and the Kremlin have repeatedly dismissed this allegation as false.
The status of honorary consuls is largely ceremonial, and they are not accorded diplomatic immunity.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, AP, and Topspb.tv