Mr Tillerson is a former ExxonMobil CEO and is a controversial appointment because of his own close ties to President Putin
Donald Trump's nominee for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says NATO allies have a "right to be alarmed" at Russia.
Mr Tillerson, who was interrupted at one stage by a protester, is being grilled on his appointment by the US senate.
He told the Foreign Relations Committee: "While Russia seeks respect and relevance on the global stage, its recent activities have disregarded American interests."
Mr Tillerson is a former ExxonMobil CEO and is a controversial appointment because of his own close ties to President Putin.
His remarks on Russia in his opening statement came against a backdrop of controversy over Moscow's alleged interference in the US elections.
He said it was a "fair assumption" that Mr Putin was aware of Russian efforts to interfere in the election.
At one point in the confirmation hearing Mr Tillerson was asked if Mr Putin was a war criminal because of his actions in Chechnya and Syria.
"I would not use that term" he replied.
Mr Tillerson also hit out at China, saying that Beijing pursued its own goals and had not sufficiently helped in reining in North Korea.
"China has proven a willingness to act with abandon in the pursuit of its own goals which at times has put it in conflict with American interests," he said.
"We have to deal with what we see, not what we hope. It has not been a reliable partner in using its full influence to curb North Korea,"
But he said disagreements with China did not mean that "productive partnership" could not be pursued on other matters.
Mr Tillerson also said defeating Islamic State was "the most urgent step in thwarting radical Islam".