Serbia says a billionaire friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin who is on a U.S. sanctions list over Ukraine has agreed to become the Balkan country's honorary consul.

The office of Serbia's pro-Russian President Tomislav Nikolic said Wednesday that Gennady Timchenko will be Serbia's honorary consul in St. Petersburg. It says Timchenko greeted Nikolic upon arrival at the airport Tuesday in the Russian city.

Timchenko, one of Putin's closest friends, has earned billions in the energy trade.

Nikolic said in a statement that the appointment reflects long-standing friendly relations between the two Slavic allies.

Serbia 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.