Former Obama State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin expected deterrent measures when Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election but didn't see them so he felt he could "keep pushing."
"I think it's probably the case that the Russians expected deterrent measures and didn't see them, and so felt they could keep pushing," Nuland said during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.
During eight years of the Obama administration, Russia was able to invade Ukraine, annex Crimea, prop up Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and interfere in the 2016 election. In response to its aggressive behavior, Obama personally warned Putin to "cut it out." As his presidency was coming to an end, Obama ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats and the implementation of new sanctions against the country.
"Why did Vladimir Putin think he could get away with treating the United States the way he treats countries he's near abroad, that they think should be under Russia's control and under their thumb?" Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio asked.
"In my experience with this particular leader, if you don't make these aggressive moves cost directly for him and his circle in his own context, then he will keep pushing," Nuland said.
Rubio mentioned Obama's warning to Putin and asked Nuland if she thought those actions had a deterrent effect.
"I think its pretty well unknowable what the total effect might have been. It appears that there might have been a slowing of Russian activity in September after the president directly warned President Putin, but clearly by the middle of October, that activity had resumed in full force," Nuland said.
After Obama warned Putin, Russia's interference continued with the release of emails from John Podesta, a top adviser to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
"I think what we saw was a move from the release of the emails into our political conversation among ourselves, moving later in the campaign to the acceleration, using the bot networks and using the Internet accounts they had established to push false narratives that were popular on the fringes of U.S. politics and try to mainstream those," Nuland said.