THE wife of Vladimir Putin critic Alexei Navalny has been freed after being arrested during demonstrations against the Russian leader.
Yulia Navalnaya had posted a selfie of herself inside a prison van after being detained during a mass protests in support of her husband, who is himself in jail.
The anti-Putin demonstrations took place across Russia in temperatures as low as -15C – with police forcibly detaining supporters of Navalny.
More than 3,500 demonstrators were detained in the protests with several injured in clashes with police in the capital Moscow.
Among those detained is was Navalnaya, who previously said she would join the demonstration “for myself, for him, for our children, for the values and the ideals that we share”.
She was among 950 people arrested in Moscow and foreign media estimated at least 40,000 people had gathered in the centre of the city for one of the biggest unauthorised rallies for years.
“Apologies for the poor quality. Very bad light in the police van,” she wrote on Instagram with an accompanying photo.
Ugly scenes also developed at protests in several cities in the Russian Far East.
Anti-corruption campaigner Mr Navalny, 44, was led away by cops after he flew back to Moscow from Berlin with his wife on January 17.
The brave opposition leader had been recovering in Germany after a Novichok nerve agent attack five months ago.
He was left fighting for life in a coma following the poisoning on a plane from Siberia to Moscow.
Key Navalny aides around Russia had been rounded up and detained ahead of the rallies in support of him.
In far-eastern city Khabarovsk, crowds chanted “Putin’s Dogs” as law enforcement detained protesters.
At one point crowds fought back, with police seeking to release those being held.
In Kamchatka, nine time zones east of Moscow, protesters carried placards reading “Corruption is the cancer of our country” and “I’m choosing Freedom”.
While crowds were not huge, protests went ahead in all main cities in the Russian Far East, including former Gulag staging post Magadan where temperatures reached -30C.
In Yakutsk – the world’s coldest city – crowds gathered in -51C to support jailed Navalny – who was earlier allegedly poisoned with nerve agent Novichok by an FSB secret service hit squad.
A video showed police pulling a protester on the snow into a law enforcement bus as cries directed to police are heard: “What have they done? What are you doing? Are you out of your mind doing that?”
Among the protesters in eastern cities were mothers carrying babies.
In Siberia city Ulan-Ude, extra Saturday classes were put on to prevent school students joining the unsanctioned protests – which the authorities said were illegal.
In Komsomolsk-on-Amur a squad of riot police detained a dozen people, as the crowd chanted: “Freedom to political prisoners!”
Navalny’s supporters say his arrest when he returned from Germany on Sunday was politically motivated.
Reports suggest he may be hit with new legal action that could see him remain behind bars for more than a decade.
Navalny has dedicated himself to toppling strongman Putin and despite being behind bars in recent days, accused the Russian president of using state cash to enrich himself and his family.
Among the claims is that Putin has built himself a £1billion palace at Gelendzhik on the Black Sea.
Putin denies any wrongdoing.
The Kremlin has denied being “afraid” of Navalny and his pro-democracy campaigners but are concerned to act tough to prevent mass support growing for a Ukrainian-style revolution.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Sunday accused the US embassy of interfering in Russia’s domestic affairs after the mission distributed a “demonstration alert” to US citizens in Russia recommending they avoid protests.
“Of course, these publications are inappropriate,” Peskov told a state TV channel.
“And of course indirectly, they are absolutely an interference in our domestic affairs.”
Protesters said mobile data was being disrupted around protest sites to stop communications between anti-Putin protesters.
Leonid Volkov, an ally of Alexei Navalny, said on Saturday that the opposition would hold more protests next weekend to demand Navalny’s release.
Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Russia Director said: “Russian authorities relentlessly unleash reprisals against peaceful protesters what we saw today has only confirmed this.
“The police ignored their duty to guarantee the right to peaceful assembly and instead indiscriminately beat and arbitrarily arrested protesters, many of whom were young people.
“This display of unbridled power sought to dampen the wave of discontent prompted by the arbitrary detention of Aleksei Navalny and the publication of his latest investigation, which revealed the gargantuan scale of corruption at the top of government.
“We demand the immediate and unconditional release of all peaceful protesters and other civil society activists who have been subjected to “preventative” arrests on spurious charges, including staff members of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.”