The First Minister said he admires “certain aspects” of Mr Putin but does not approve of a range of Russian actions, in a magazine interview with Alastair Campbell, the former Labour strategy director, given six weeks ago.
He offered the view as Russia was being accused of military aggression over the future of Crimea in neighbouring Ukraine, but before the region was annexed.
The interview, which also covers the independence referendum campaign, will be published in GQ this week.
Mr Salmond praised German chancellor Angela Merkel. And he said that while he admires US president Barack Obama’s campaigning, he wondered why he could not have “done more”.
Asked about Mr Putin, Mr Salmond said: “Well, obviously, I don’t approve of a range of Russian actions, but I think Putin’s more effective than the press he gets I would have thought, and you can see why he carries support in Russia.”
Pressed on whether he admires the Russian leader, the First Minister said: “Certain aspects. He’s restored a substantial part of Russian pride and that must be a good thing. There are aspects of Russian constitutionality and the inter-mesh with business and politics that are obviously difficult to admire. Russians are fantastic people, incidentally, they are lovely people.”
He spoke warmly of Ms Merkel in the interview. Mr Salmond said: “I think the German Chancellor is pretty effective. Some chancellors have been unwilling to use German authority. She is not in that mould.”
Closer to home, he said anti-EU Ukip leader Nigel Farage had a “certain bonhomie” – but it is “not enough”. Mr Salmond continued: “He is having influence beyond his significance so you have to admire that. There is a constituency for saloon-bar politics and he has played it out. I have a sneaking regard for anyone who takes on powerful establishments.”
Mr Salmond said he expects turn-out on the independence referendum polling day to be around 75 per cent or higher.
Labour MSP Patricia Ferguson said Mr Salmond’s remarks about Putin were “insensitive and ill-judged” because of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
She said: “For Scotland’s First Minister to admit his admiration for someone with such a controversial record on human rights and democracy does not reflect well on our country.”
However, a spokesman for the First Minister said: “The First Minister was very happy to take part in an interview for GQ and was perfectly happy with it being conducted by Alistair Campbell.
“The interview was conducted on 14 March but the First Minster correctly forecast the Yes campaign was gaining ground in campaign and argument.
“This has been confirmed subsequently by all recent polls.”