Russian artist seeks asylum in France after painting of Putin in lingerie

A museum-goer looks at a painting by Russian artist Konstantin Altunin representing Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in women's lingerie on Aug. 21, 2013. Olga Maltseva / AFP - Getty Images

MOSCOW - A Russian painter who depicted President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as shapely and scantily clad women has fled the country and is seeking asylum in France.

“I am an artist, I want to paint, not be a prisoner,” the artist Konstantin Altunin said via telephone from Paris. He added he fled Russia on Tuesday in fear of his life after four of his paintings were seized from the recently opened Museum of Power in St. Petersburg.

Altunin said Russia is becoming ever more repressive and that he feared he could face charges of “extremism” -- a law that critics say is used to target the opposition, and minority groups. He said he already has launched his political asylum application in France.

According to the Museum of Power's director Tatyana Titova, a group of more than 10 security personnel carrying machine guns confiscated Altunin's paintings on Monday night and forced the museum to close. 

“They kept me from six in the evening until one in the morning and asked me where Konstantin was ... but I did not tell them anything,” Titova said.

Russian security officials were not immediately available for comment.

Altunin's painting entitled “Travesty” shows Putin's and Medvedev's heads atop women’s bodies. In another painting, Russian parliamentarian Vitaly Milonov, the initiator of a controversial "gay propaganda" ban introduced earlier this year, stands against a rainbow background.

Rainbow colors are symbolic of gay pride.

“That was the point, since [Milonov's] not famous for anything else – he became known for this law,” Altunin said.

Nobody in Milonov's offices was available for comment.

The ban on gay propaganda to minors, aimed at cracking down on people who distribute information intended to show minors that so-called nontraditional relationships are normal, was signed by Putin this June. There has since been widespread international condemnation of it, including calls to boycott the upcoming Winter Olympics in Russia’s southern city of Sochi.

Altunin said he was writing a letter requesting the return of his paintings to Putin and guests of the upcoming G20 Summit of the world's leading economies set to be held next week in St. Petersburg. The Museum of Power plans to reopen its doors on September 5, the first day of the two-day summit.