A clip posted on YouTube shows Alexei Navalny being grabbed by policemen, who brandish their batons and take one protester by the throat as they shove the opposition leader into a waiting police wagon.
Several thousand Russians braved sub-zero temperatures to protest against President Vladimir Putin, who's seeking to prolong his nearly two-decade-long rule in March elections.
Municipal authorities said the protests were not approved and threatened legal action against Navalny.
Navalny has accused the rest of the field of presidential hopefuls of playing into Putin's hands and aiding what he says is a Kremlin bid to portray the vote as a legitimate, competitive contest.
In some of the online footage, Russian police can be seen at the property of Mr Navalny's anti-corruption organisation in Moscow. A dramatic video posted to Twitter shows police detaining Navalny and forcing him into a police vehicle.
Other protests took place in Novosibirsk, Kurgan, Omsk, Magadan, Kemerovo and Yakutsk.
Around 240 people were detained across the country, according to OVD-Info, an independent group which monitors crackdowns on demonstrations.
Campaigner Mr Navalny first rose to prominence by highlighting corruption among top Russian officials, and he has become perhaps the country's most prominent political opposition figure.
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Mr Navalny said he planned to attend the Moscow protest later.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been released after he was arrested Sunday during anti-Kremlin protests in Moscow, according to his official Twitter account.
"These are not elections because we already know the result", Elena Ruzhe, 62, told AFP in Moscow.
"To be honest, I don't support especially Navalny", Pavel Tikhonov, a 29-year-old who works for an worldwide company, tells NPR's Kim.
He called a day of protest on Sunday in protest at his exclusion from the race.
He also wrote that in 80 percent of cases, authorities have granted permission for rallies at the requested sites for January 28, but not in Moscow or St. Petersburg. Navalny is also calling on Russians to boycott the election.
The rally was called to protest the upcoming polls which are expected to extend President Putin's term to 2024.
"I want change", Andrei Petrov, 20, told AFP in the former imperial capital.