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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Outgoing Cohen Speaks Frankly on Russia

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen speaking at the National Press Club 10 days before he leaves office questioned whether Russia under President Vladimir Putin will complete its transition to democracy or "revert to the past."

"It's unclear whether Russia is going to make this transition to free minds and free markets as have some of its Eastern European neighbors," Cohen said Wednesday. "At times its seems to me that President Putin is intent on pursuing democracy almost by decree."

Cohen made clear he sees cause for concern, noting that a recent National Intelligence Council report predicted Russia was headed for further decline over the next 15 years.

"We have to look to see whether or not Russia is going to pursue a course of seeking cooperation and full integration into European affairs and a better relation with the United States or whether or not it's going to revert to the past and seek to achieve some kind of major role on the world scene through the use of force or the threat of it," Cohen said.

However, as encouraging examples, Cohen cited Russia's participation in Balkan peacekeeping and last year's agreement with Washington to establish a joint early warning center in Moscow to monitor potential missile threats.