It was only the second time since Mercedes’ Monaco upgrade that he was able to out-qualify teammate Lewis Hamilton, who only managed 13th on the grid.
Russell left it late to pip Williams’ Alex Albon for third behind Max Verstappen and Lando Norris.
Reflecting on a challenging session, Russell said: “Really great session. Qualy was one of my strengths at the start of the year and it has been going a bit wrong recently.
“It was good to have that break and I came in with a fresh set of ideas, good reset and we are in a great place for tomorrow to fight for the podium.
“The lap was OK. We always struggle when it’s very wet or it’s the crossover onto slicks and we have to get that temperature into the tyres. But we know the Saturday weakness is the strength on Sundays.”
Russell is predicting a “good fight” with Norris and Albon, with Verstappen likely to have a comfortable afternoon again on home soil.
“It’s going to be an exciting race,” he added. “I’m sure Max will be having his Sunday drive and waving to the crowd tomorrow, but hopefully we can have a good fight with Alex, Lando and all those guys.
“I am really happy for Williams and Alex. I said before the session I saw the guys on the pit wall very happy with their performance.”