"I will work to return to good relations with Russia. Putin is a great president. And I say this because I think so, and not because I was paid, as some newspapers say", the politician said at the League party in the spa town of Cervia.
Salvini also named US President Donald Trump, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban among other contemporary political leaders that deserve the greatest respect.
In February, L'Espresso published an investigation claiming that Salvini and his representatives, during the October visit to Moscow, discussed the financing of the League with Russians ahead of European elections.
The party has allegedly gained 3 million euros ($3.3 million) under cover of Russian diesel exports. Moscow, as well as Salvini, has repeatedly refuted such allegations.
The relations between Russia and the West deteriorated in 2014 in light of the crisis in Ukraine and Crimea's reunification with Russia.
The European Union imposed economic sanctions on Russia, which responded with a food embargo on the bloc's foodstuffs. In late June, the European Union officially extended its sanctions against Russia until 31 January 2020.
However, Rome and Moscow enjoy generally friendly relations as Italy is Russia's second-largest EU trade partner, after Germany.
Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Rome in early July and met with Italy's President Sergio Mattarella. After the meeting, Putin hailed "an absolute consensus" between Italian political forces on the need to develop good relations with Russia.