MOSCOW - The government ordered the removal on Monday of mysterious posters put up around central Moscow showing Russia's ruling tandem posing in matching tennis shorts.
Several posters with the logo of the upmarket department store TsUM were posted close to the store in central Moscow on Monday, an AFP photographer witnessed.
The posters show President Dmitry Medvedev holding a tennis racket, while Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is empty-handed and looking slightly pained. Their pristine outfits have monograms "M" and "P" on the chests.
The posters are stylized as ads for the department store's spring/summer 2011 campaign.
The Russian government ordered Moscow city hall to remove the posters by the end of Monday, Putin's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, told the Interfax news agency, called the posters "clearly commercial" and "bordering on hooliganism."
The TsUM department store denied any connection to the posters.
"We would like officially to inform that TsUM department store has no relation to this advertising, and using (the) TsUM trademark in this case is illegal," the store said in a statement sent to AFP.
The posters include the address of a website called Monolog.tv, and the artist's email.
The artist, who declined to give a name, said in an email to AFP that the posters were "street art".
"I took the two most famous people in our country ... who are completely isolated from the world of fashion and showbusiness," the artist wrote.
"We usually see Putin and Medvedev buttoned-up and I wanted to show them as fashionable, relaxed guys who follow trends and have an active way of life."
Neither leader has expressed particular enthusiasm for tennis, which was the favorite sport of first Russian president Boris Yeltsin. Putin is known as a judo enthusiast while Medvedev has said he enjoys yoga.