Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin has been hailed as a gay icon following photographs of him riding bare-chested through a Siberian wilderness.

The 57-year-old leader and former KGB man showed off his impressive physique, honed by years of athetlcs and judo.

According to the Times, the images, which have created a buzz on the country’s gay websites, will “confirm the Russian prime minister’s status as a gay icon”.

The images, released to the public by the Kremlin, showed him feeding his horse, riding a mini-submarine and swimming in a lake.

He regularly releases photographs of himself on testosterone-filled holidays and in 2007, was shown fishing bare-chested in a river.

That trip, with Prince Albert II of Monaco, was compared to a parody of Brokeback Mountain, the film about two gay cowboys.

Commentators have said the photographs are released as a show of strength and virility.

Putin is also a black belt in karate and has published a set of his own instructional DVDs, called Let’s Learn Judo with Vladimir Putin.

Despite the prime minister’s status as a pin-up for men and women alike, the country has a history of banning Pride marches.

Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov called gays “Satanic” several years ago and gay rights protesters have frequently been met with violence.

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