Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond has said he admires “certain aspects” of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In an interview for the forthcoming issue of GQ magazine - given last month as Russia was being accused of military aggression in Crimea but before it had annexed the region from Ukraine - Mr Salmond was questioned about a number of world leaders by Alastair Campbell, the former Labour strategy director.
“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,” Mr Salmond said.
“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.”
Ukip leader Nigel Farage has also controversially expressed admiration for Mr Putin “as an operator, but not as a human being” – in another GQ interview with Mr Campbell and during the debate over the European Union with Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.
And Mr Salmond said Mr Farage was “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 establishment,” he said.
But Mr Farage’s “certain bonhomie” was “not enough”, he added.
In his GQ interview, Mr Farage said German chancellor Angela Merkel was “incredibly cold”.
But Mr Salmond described her as “pretty effective”.
“Some chancellors have been unwilling to use German authority. She is not in that mould," he said.
And the Scottish premier said he admired the political campaigning of Barack Obama, but questioned whether the US president could not have “done more”.
A spokesman for the First Minister said: “The First Minister was very happy to take part in an interview for GQ - one of the best-read magazines in the country - and was perfectly happy with it being conducted by Alistair Campbell.
“The interview was conducted on March 14 but the First Minster correctly forecast that the Yes campaign was gaining ground in campaign and argument. This has been confirmed subsequently by all recent polls.”
The spokesman stressed the interview was conducted before the annexation of the Crimea. “Since then, the Scottish Government has made our position abundantly clear on the illegal annexation, including the decision to withdraw the invitation to the Russian Consul General to the annual Scottish Consular Corps dinner," he said.
Scottish Labour's external affairs spokeswoman Patricia Ferguson said: “Given he shares Nigel Farage's politics of division and grievance, it's hardly a surprise that the First Minister has found common ground with the Ukip Leader.
“But his comments about Vladmir Putin are insensitive and ill-judged given the precarious situation in Ukraine. 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.”