The eurosceptic MEP had less kind words for Angela Merkel, describing the German chancellor as "incredibly cold".
He claimed to see little to choose between the leaders of Britain's three major parties, telling men's magazine GQ that he does not "give a damn" whether the Prime Minister or Labour's Ed Miliband wins next year's General Election. Mr Farage's comments emerged just days after the Ukip leader said the European Union had "blood on its hands" for encouraging rebellion in Ukraine, Syria and Libya.
While stressing that he did not approve of Mr Putin's annexation of Crimea, he said EU leaders had been "weak and vain", adding: "If you poke the Russian bear with a stick he will respond."
The Ukip leader was quizzed for GQ by Labour's former director of communications Alistair Campbell, in his first interview as "arch-interrogator" for the monthly glossy.
Asked which current world leader he most admired, Mr Farage replied: "As an operator, but not as a human being, I would say Putin. The way he played the whole Syria thing. Brilliant. Not that I approve of him politically. How many journalists in jail now?"
Putin has been blamed by the west for prolonging the Syrian conflict by supplying arms to dictator Bashar Assad and blocking UN sanctions.
He was widely seen to have outwitted the US by brokering a deal under which Damascus agreed to give up chemical weapons.
On Mrs Merkel, Mr Farage said: "Whatever you think of the public image of Merkel, in private she is even more miserable."