Vladimir Putin (AP/ RIA-Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service)

Former president Bill Clinton says in a new interview that Russian President Vladimir Putin is "highly intelligent" and patriotic for his country, but that his view of greatness often comes at the expense of ordinary people.

"I think he's got a sort of fatalistic view of the misfortunes that befall ordinary people when larger things are at stake," Clinton said at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai. "I think the largest things that are at stake are the things that befall ordinary people."

Clinton also said Putin rarely tries to hide his motives.

"The one thing I will say about him: He was always pretty transparent. He never pretended to be anyone he wasn't," Clinton said, adding that it is best to be brutal and honest with such leaders in private but not embarrass them publicly.

Clinton offered some sympathy for Russia, noting that the country endured very difficult times after the Soviet Union dissolved. He also said Crimea is a "special case," even as he called the just-concluded referendum to leave Ukraine and join Russia a "farce."

"Crimea is a special case because Krushchev gave it to Ukraine in '52 thinking Moscow would always run the whole show anyway," Clinton said.

But, Clinton added, the rest of the country serves as an important bridge between East and West.