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From: jonathan.steele@guardian.co.uk
Subject: Putin transcript
Date: Wed, 15 Sept

Transcript of first part of President Putin's meeting at Novo Ogarevo on Monday September 6 2004 with a group of foreign academics and journalists.

(Note from Jonathan Steele, The Guardian.

I was the only person in the group who was taping the meeting. I had only budgeted for a 90-minute meeting, and did not have enough tape for the entire encounter.

To save the transcriber's time, the questions are summarised. The answers were the official interpreter's version of Putin's Russian, given sequentially after the President spoke. His English was not perfect and has not been edited or corrected.

If any part of this transcript is used in broadcasts, articles or other publications, please acknowledge that it was made available by the Guardian)

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Putin: I am pleased to take your questions, though we will understand that the circumstances surrounding our meeting today do not really presuppose room for discussion.

You're here in Russia and I would like to thank you for the many years you have spent working on Russia's problems and for your work during these days and two weeks of tragedy surrounding us. It is my duty to show respect to you and I decided I should not decline the offer that led to this meeting and I will do my best to take your questions and under the pressure of time of course I will do my best to answer them, provided they are not too difficult for me.

Question: What is the extent to which these awful acts were the product of the global terrorist threat and the extent to which they were in any way connected to Chechnya and the policy towards Chechnya?

I will start from the time when we were two blocks and those two blocks were fighting each other until death. That was the time when the US went to Vietnam and Russia stepped into Afghanistan. We have let too many genies out of the bottles and that was spread over nuclear arms, and today this has been our common concern to provide for non-proliferation of those arms. And it wasn't here that it emerged first, I was wondering if you knew that we never used those nuclear arms, so international terrorism is just one of those genies. So, as not to delve into the genesis of who was first, who started these things off, who applied it more or less, it has been virtually by the use of the adventurers sometimes other very noble purposes they proclaimed. And very recently in my talks with the King of Jordan he said that for fifty years they had been fighting with fundamentalism. It was also used by some militant groups who used it in Afghanistan, against the Soviet Union, and we all know who was behind those groups then. I am not here to be an advocate of claiming that the Soviet Union was an angel here, we know that the idea of the global revolution was born on this territory and that these ideas were spread around and it's not the point of stating who is precisely to be blamed here, it is the ideas which always push the terror around.

And anyway, the genie of terror was also let free from that bottle. And now we will pool our effort to try to combat it jointly. Perhaps I have mentioned it on television, but to provide you with a full answer I will once again stress the point.

So I will provide you with a full answer to this question as I mentioned in my statement, that in the wake of the break-up of the USSR, many conflicts of ethnic and confessional nature have broken out. We do have up to two thousand conflicts of the type which are in the dormant stage, and if we don't do anything about them, they could provide a flare up instantaneously.

So, once the Soviet Union got weaker and was on the verge of breakdown, those conflicts became apparent. They included Karabakh, South Ossetia, and on the territory of the USSR they were quite a few, and on the territory of the Russian Federation there were quite a few too. And that's always, at all times of universal history, once the state became weaker separatism, which was very natural, was on the rise. It happened elsewhere, it happened here.

There was a lot of injustice in Soviet times, many violations of human rights occurred, many breaches occurred in a tragic manner, including in the Caucasus, including in Chechnya. And you, as a student of the history of Russia, are aware of the heroic defence of the fortress of Brest, and we are now coming to the celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the end of world war two. It was a time when the front was already far behind and deep inside the Russian, the Soviet Union territory, where still there was the border, the fortress of Brest stood until the very last bullet, until the very last drop of blood and they really had no chance either to survive or to win, but they wouldn't surrender. And that was the really heroic exploit, which not many people know about, then among other things about a third of the defenders being Chechen.

By and large, if you were to compute by percentage per capita of the number of heroes of world war two, perhaps the greatest number was precisely from Chechnya.

That being said, Stalin made a very cruel decision to resettle those people of the Caucasus, including from Chechnya, to Siberia, to Kazakhstan, and those hundreds of thousands of people really perished there, and being subjected to very hard conditions and injustice of all sorts. I visited some of those camps up North, and even today, not even think about, not even imagine, but to see it, it's very scary. So, all of those injustices taken together couldn't but bring a rise to the emergence of those separatist trends, which were expressing themselves on the territory of the Russian federation in the wake of the break-up of the Soviet Union.

I would like to criticise at this time those leaders in the early nineties period in Russia, for their decisions concerning Chechnya. I really don't know, perhaps if I was in their position, perhaps I would not have committed those mistakes, I perhaps I would have.

Anyhow, now we have to state the fact that those errors have been committed and they resulted in the unleashing of the first Chechnya war. So, in the very beginning of this war, in the course of this war, and on the completion of this campaign, immediately those elements of separatism made a link with International radicalism and International terrorism which could and should have been expected anyhow. And especially so when Russia fled Chechnya, and in 1995 to underscore this point, gave not de jure but de facto full independence. And there can be no vacuum in power once this vacuum was provided it was filled in not by separatism, but this time by radical fundamentalists of the worst possible scenario/type.

We have to change the state of Chechnya. So, in our budget we have itemised certain funds to provide for the children, for the pensions, and before there were no other expectations, we were to think about in the period of 1995 onwards, jointly, to work out some status for them to remain within the limits of the independence they had already achieved. Therefore there was no thinking about taking away that independence of them, of bringing troops and starting this invasion.

So, you asked me about a connection between Beslan and our policies in Chechnya. But tell me please, what is the connection between the independence of Chechnya and their attack on Dagestan?

It should be clear to everyone, I will once again answer this question to you. There is no connection whatsoever, there is no connection between the policies of Russia, regarding Chechnya and the subsequent events.

So, this International fundamentalism in its ugliest shape and form, gaining currency and ground on that territory, having matured, designed itself a new task, to go further, to go and take away the Caucasus, that's why they emerged in Dagestan.

But, I must say, that over the period of three years of their government in Chechnya, they really discredited and compromised themselves before the eyes of the Chechens, with the law of sharia, with firing squads in public places, with people being beaten by sticks, both men and women. With the trading slave markets, and taking hostage of thousands of individuals, and then going on to attacking the adjacent Russian territories. So there was no end to it.

Together with criminalizing and trying to criminalize the Russian economy, which is also very important topic, they were now reinforcing for criminal use a religious trend of one of the more notorious Wahhabism, which has never been known on that territory.

And what is important is that the people of Chechnya have got a sense of danger, and perhaps they could not purely articulate it but they got it, this sense very clearly. And in 1999 they cried out to Maskhadov "OK, we don't mind, you marry Russia, but please don't unleash war with Russia. But he could not respond, he had no control over the territory. The territory had already been divided by warlords and chieftains who were in charge of those territories.

It's small wonder that eighty percent of people went to the polling station for the elections and for those people who don't follow the events perhaps that might have caused some wonder,but for those who are students of the situation there, there is no wonder.

Yes it has always indicated that people will show up for election in the Caucasus, but this time it was even more so because people for all intents and purposes were tired of lawlessness.

Now for us it was no longer status of independence that was of importance. For us now, it was more important that on this territory no launchpad would be set-up to rock the boat of the Russian federation. I think no one can blame us for not exercising flexibility in our dealing with the people, I will stress, the people of Chechnya.

First, in 1995 we provided them with independence, which they sought, which was their goal. It should be clear to everybody that we did what was asked here, that we provided them with independence, but what they made out of it, schools were shut down, hospitals were shut down, incredible levels of violence, unbelievable chaos now reigned in this territory. And we under the circumstances had a deep understanding of the causes which were behind all this.

We, on top of this with their assault on Dagestan, decided not to oppress the people of Chechnya, we fought with the fundamentalists rather, but as regards to the people we established a dialogue with them. And sometimes people are telling us why don't you find your counterpart for communication with them we did that, and we even tried to find this communication with people who had fought with us with arms, like Kadyrov.

We also decided to organise a referendum there, even not being quite sure of the outcomes of it for one hundred percent, no, we did not know how many people would go for it or what the results might be, but we decided to do that. We tried to explain our viewpoints to the people, but of course we did not know what their reaction might be, and we did not have this one hundred percent guarantee before the outcome, therefore this has been my personal decision and it was a risky one. I will even tell you that I was perhaps the only one in the leaders of Russia who thought it was the right thing to do.

Still, the Chechens showed up and they voted for the status of Chechnya within the frame of the Russian Federation. Could you please provide me any other possibility or option to decide on. Of course, there will always be people who would entertain other ideas and viewpoints .instead it might be one idea in UK and that would be a different one in Spain, but who said that people should follow the idea of the separatists, why should they be all around in their decision rather than the majority of people.

No whilst you are here I would like to ask you a question .just imagine and ask yourself this question just ask yourself a simple question, would you like that anywhere on this planet, people who shoot children would get to power? So you ask yourself this question and you have no other questions concerning our policies vis a vis Chechnya.

Question: In terms of training personnel and combating radical Islam and co-operation regarding the tackling of some major international terrorist actions, who could Russia work with?

Putin: I think that in the last part of your question you also answered your question. Well you know, Russia today is a different country from the USSR and for any objective observer that should be clear. It's no accident that answering to my first question here I recalled Afghanistan and those older days. It is true that there was inertia in the slow down phase in the wake of the end of cold war, this is quite a long distance. You know we get a sense that they want to sympathise with us, they want to deal with us and you know that can be sensed immediately. These people do have a sense that if fundamentalism and separatism came through the ground here, it will not stay here, it will pour out and that is going to be a situation where they will have to fight these kinds in their own land. I think that still somewhere in the military circles and in the circles of special services there still exists these tendencies to fight this former common enemy, including with the use of the means of terror. Also in the political circles.

I had a conversation with the representatives of US congress in the wake of the referendum on the question of the constitution in Chechnya. I asked them, "why didn't you show up as observers to that campaign?, you could easily show up and take a look, we didn't introduce any restrictions or limitations for that matter". They asked me "Well, did you send an invitation for us to come?", I said of course, invitations were delivered to the Department of State, to which they responded, "that's disgusting, next time we must come". They personally told me that. And when we turned out the elections of the President of Chechnya we sent out the invitations, again there was a pretext of declining the invitation not to come.

Well you know, if some people would entertain the idea that one might use it as a tool for Russia to rock it a little bit, to tear it apart somewhat, to make it more focussed and concerned with its internal problems, not go beyond its horizons of the borderline, that's erroneous and a complete blunder on their part. You might recall in ancient times, one of the politicians in Rome, whatever the discussion was, would take as a course, would always conserve his notion that I still believe Carthage should be destroyed.

Has anyone of those who entertains such ideas given a thought as to what repercussions it might bring about if Russia were to be eliminated, and not only for the entire world but for himself personally? Sometimes it's difficult for the people out there to compute what the consequences would be concerning Iraq for one month and a half, let only such possibilities regarding the global evolution for it under such a scenario.

I'd like to stress the point, no matter what the secret fight is going to be we will not allow a Chechen revolution of that kind. Since you understand what that might mean for the millions of citizens of the Russian Federation.

We are sincere champions of collaboration in the International fight against international terrorism, we are open and predictable partners here. But what we register and detect the case is when western special services establish contacts with whom they refer to as rebels and when that very specific cases are identified and demonstrated to them they say yes, that's just a separate occasion and will not be repeated, and they will send out an official letter stating they have a right to communicate with whatever political forces they deem necessary, we regard that as not being as reliable a partner as the Russian Federation happens to be.

We have facts, and they are true facts, and we even name names to our partners identifying those individuals who as official members of the security community in those countries still maintain contact with the people who fight with arms in their hands against us, and that has been the case with regards to the situation in Spain, France, the UK and concerning Iraq. Just give it a thought, what would have been the case if we were to do that with regard to the former mentioned nations and individuals from al Qaeda?

But, I am positive that common sense will prevail, at least on the political level, and politicians I am dealing with on that level, therefore they will be capable of overturning that trend and putting behind those terms of the cold war, and really putting effort into jointly dealing with the changing world and these new challenges of the world. Of that I am optimistic and am sure that the common sense will get the upper hand, and it will be the outcome of this.

Question: Please could you elaborate to us your policy towards Georgia? In light of Presidential election in Ukraine, views on possibility of Ukraine joining NATO or EU?

Putin: (Note: Tape was changed over to the other side here, and a few sentences were lost)

The course of policies towards the expansion of their relationship with EU it is totally their decision, we certainly will not object to it, in fact we will support it. We ourselves are interested now in broadening this base of common interaction with EU in regards to economy, humanitarian issues, communications, science.

For all effects and purposes, our desire to set-up the common economic space of the EU does not contradict the desire of the central states of the FSU to move towards EU themselves. In fact, on the contrary, we prefer that desire because it shows up our own desire to set up the major nucleus of the FSU states, with regards to achieving European standards in such areas as economy, communications and humanitarian issues.

In fact we are on the subject passing ideas with our neighbours regarding their ideas of making the belief we are their new European neighbours. Russia also stands to gain from the trend of the republics of the FSU to co-operate more closer with the countries of the EU, since we will in fact get this common space while Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, like us, will use the same standards in dealing over EU, and that is why we all will stand to gain from this process.

In other words, we don't set up any obstacles on that road, on the contrary, we want to provide this road of co-operation for them so that sometimes down the road, some of these countries like Ukraine may decide they want to go further, then it will be easier for them to interact within this ideal of the common space.

As regards NATO, it's a little bit different here. We no longer need to regard NATO as an enemy organisation which is a true fact, neither do we consider it as efficient form the military technology point of view. Rather we regard it as an instrument, a tool for politics. In saying that, I don't want to undermine NATO. But this is evident since this organisation was set up as a block which was hostile to another block, since then there is an internal process underway, they are searching for a new opponent and otherwise, what's the reason for that organisation? This is the big question here.

Besides, I don't think that it is all so democratically well organised inside there and all the members of NATO are so happy about their status either. On the contrary, I would think that it is directly opposite. That being said, I don't want to express any prediction here of the soon demise of NATO. On top of that, even more than that, I would not like to see a burial of the NATO organisation.

Why, well first thing this organisation, NATO, is in existence and it is of importance with regards to the attainment of international global stability. And we are interested in that stability. All we want is the relationship with the organisation, and with the separate member states of the organisation, being more transparent. And feel a really partner character. Now the EU has extended because of the entry of several countries including Baltic states.

Now tell me, from the perspective of modern threats, has it made things better for any country with regards to dealing with modern threats? No. What can Estonia, for one, offer in combating international terrorism? They can't do anything. They can do it just as well, out of the framework of NATO.

What I am implying regarding my desire that we have a more partner type of relationship with NATO is as follows. Well, I once used that subject before in explaining the point . Now try go out on the streets of Berlin, Paris or Barcelona, and ask folk in the street whether they feel more secure after the expansion of NATO. No, not at all, especially if you were people for example on the Madrid train which exploded, if they were to say that they feel secure in the result of that, that would be complete nonsense.

Therefore, this extension of NATO is not related directly with the security, but rather it is related with political decision, that's why we didn't agree, but hey, we have taken it as a fact which has occurred.

We do have a NATO-Russian council in place, we have fleshed out five subjects we would like to have on our agenda for discussion. And, we are satisfied with the development of our relations with NATO. You are aware of the rule that NATO is to provide security over the airspace of their member states. OK, they do have such rules and we have taken note.

But then, I have to ask you one question, why do they have to send those four or five fighters to provide for their flights along the borders or our country without giving us even any clue concerning that? That decision, they might as well have told us they have such rules and might have warned us one or two months in advance, that they would follow that rule and send those fighters for ensuring those rules of providing security and providing them with those assignments there. But that has not been done, and has happened just de facto.

Why do they have to do that? We don't know. And who decided that? We do have the NATO-Russian council and nobody told us as much, but they didn't. As if it was in the context of 1985 when the Soviet Union was an enemy and then they would have, in the spirit of the cold war, entered those borders. But this I would think is an exercise of negligence on the part of the leadership who got to that decision. And when we asked them who in fact decided on that, they said that we don't know who did that. What is that? Who is in charge of NATO organisation? Tell me that.

And now, as regards to the possibility of Ukrainian adherence to NATO, well, like I said, we don't object to that, if it is done in a more delicate way and in a more civilised way then I don't mind that. That should be not in a bullying process, the decision should be getting this realisation in practical terms, but in a more diligent manner.

Generally speaking, our relationship with Nato has been developing and satisfactorily so, and we are happy with their statement regarding Beslan and we take it as a sincere and firm position expressed. And it is not only now, it's a consistent policy. We have got the sense that has been the policy of the previous Secretary General and now we feel it. In other words, we do face problems, but the positive side is more than that.

Now talking about Georgia.

Well, you know, Georgia is a very close country to Russia, both historically with its religion and with its traditions.

Georgia, being quite a large republic was put together very artificially in a similar manner as other creations in the former Soviet Union used to be. And I should say that the relations between the Ossetian and Georgian people has for whole centuries not been very easy and Ossetians believe that they have been subjected to some exploitation by Georgia. And, they believe that the nationality of Georgians was imposed on them both, both Ossetians and Abkhazians, and that has been the case in the passport when we had this itemisation of ethnicity, where they would have pointed out themselves, especially living in the outer parts. Georgian, that was imposed on them by force. They were mentioned there as Georgians, that's actually true in Russia as well.

Well, they preferred more their independence. Obstacles were caused for them to provide schooling for their children in their mother tongues and their other mutual claims which had been accumulated over the decades. Now both of them are telling us that as Georgians want to quit the USSR, we didn't. So if they had to enjoy the right to quit USSR, why cannot we enjoy the right to quit Russia?

So let's say that we are dealing with the in-depth roots of the Caucasus here, we have a stake not to have any conflict on our Southern borders. We want to see Georgia as stable and friendly and free. And about since the time that I came to Presidency we have done everything on our part to push the two sides closer, so that they would find it possible both for Abkhazians and Ossetians to find co-existence within the frameworks of Georgia.

Shevardnadze had recourse to the use of Chechen militants, transferring them to Abkhaz border from Chechen borderf. We said "Why do you do that? Do you want to explode the situation?" and he said 'no', he didn't do that, and all the work, we showed him, which transported those troops, he said yes that happened, we did fire some people in the special services and the military. They for all purposes exploded the situation and rolled it back.

Now, as regards Mikhail Sakashvili, the new Georgian President has told me on several occasions that he wants to establish the contact necessary with the leadership and the people, and he wants to start incorporating them in the area of co-operation of humanitarian affairs. Which would be the right thing to do. But what has in done in practice to these? On both sides of the border in both Ossetia and Georgia , they have set up a security fence. So, according to the agreements reached there, there should be not more than 500 peacekeepers from each side, including Georgia, North Ossetia and Russian Federation. Which adds up altogether to 1500.

But, what Georgians did was they introduced up to three thousand men of their own, on their own part of the security zone, and then go further into Southern Ossetia.

So, now they had three thousand five hundred, but the Ossetians saw that they were watching the situation, so they were clear that it will not stop there. Now it is three thousand people and will go on with four thousand five hundred, five thousand and then all of them will be captured, will be detained and will be shot. While after some pressure, not ours for that measure, but some pressure from US they had to withdraw their troops, but not for a long while. I think because they had that desire, that zeal to address the problem properly and efficiently, under the suspicion and concern that they might well resort to the use of force to address the problem.

I don't think that will be productive. At the initial stage if they were to capture some cities including skhinvali, still it would be a very lengthy and exhaustive and destructive process for Georgia itself.

The current processes were commenced with rejection of Ossetian autonomy in year 1990. But, what really is important here to answer the question you asked, in all hotspots of the territory of the former USSR our partners perceive a special role to be played by Russia. And, on similar occasions when talking to a partner there, they ask me well are there others that you have pressurised and we have conceded, answering 'no' we will not do that.

Some believe that if Russia were to express such a desire immediately overnight things would change to their liking, but this is not the case. That could only be the situation under the conditions when Russia were to pursue imperial policies, which is not the case. And such policies cost us very dear, so if we were to pressurise somebody in those areas to pursue our ends, then we will be hated in that area for hundreds of years. We would be hated by the people who would believe Russia would have undertaken an unjust decision regarding that particular people. Thus, the countries on the territory of the former Soviet Union should learn to address their problems themselves, to seek for compromise, to agree and to look through to the fact that those decisions will be acted upon.

Russia, together with the entire international community could only play a role as intermediary in ensuring that this process of implementation will take place.

Question: Your vision for Russia?

Putin: You say yourself that we happen to be two countries in East and West who identify themselves as part and parcel of western culture, this is the main defining thing for any country whenever and wherever he finds himself. Of course each of our countries have their own specific features, but as a basis it has Christianity and European culture as underpinning part of it.

For both countries, Russia and America, there is very specific identities, features which provide for internal spiritual and moral grandeur of these countries. Even if the moral values we both share, our European culture and Christianity, we still happen to be multinational states with very specific people, and people in both countries profess different confessions, which is also an important factor.

And it is no accident that people sometimes refer to America as the melting pot of the world, and Russia, Russia knows hundreds of years of co-existence, co-habitation of different religions in a very natural manner. And this gives me a right to express this overall sense of optimism with regards to the perspective of the development of world's civilisation and ensuring its security.

Now, if it happens to be possible to organise co-existence within the frameworks of one state, and several states of different religions and confessions, why should that not be possible in a more broader, global situation? I have already cited some leaders of the Arab states who have told us they have this experience of common problems of fightening most threatening forms of Islam for fifty years. And I believe that it would be erroneous dividing people as southerners and northerners, I think that both North and South should put full effort to confront their joint enemy, those people who entertain hatred as their policy.

As concerns the future of Russia, I have no slightest doubt that our country will be reinforced.

And we will see to it that the democratic instruments become more and more efficient on the territory of the Russian Federation. Starting from the level of the municipality and going up all the way to the level of the federation. But, I have to stress that all those democratic tools should be in correspondence and in conformity with the development of society. At each level of development they should be efficient, rather than carrying a destructive element.

They should be relevant and adequate to the level of the development of the society and should be based on the backbone of the historic experience of the country where they are being currently implemented. These tools should not undermine, through counterproductive means, the ideas which they profess.

Now let's turn to the aspect of economy. Nobody takes an issue nowadays with the fact that the free world, liberal economy turns out to be more efficient than planned economy. However, mechanical transplantation of those ideas on the soil of Russia has turned sour. In an economic and social sphere. And, in the mind of the population it almost discarded the idea per se.

Now let's recall the conditions under which both Reagan and Thatcher carried out their reform. They carried out those reforms under conditions which I will stress there were legal and free capital markets in the US. They carried out those reforms under the conditions of the effective state, as a state who could effectively adopt rules and fulfil its...

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From: jonathan.steele@guardian.co.uk
Subject: Concluding section of partial Putin transcript of September 6 meeting
Date: Wed, 15 Sep 2004

[DJ: For rest see end of JRL #8368]

Now let's recall the conditions under which both Reagan and Thatcher carried out their reform. They carried out those reforms under conditions which I will stress there were legal and free capital markets in the US. They carried out those reforms under the conditions of the effective state, as a state who could effectively adopt rules and fulfil its commitments, and see that those rules are being implemented according to the letter and spirit of the law.

And even there and then, the Thatcher government was also almost brought to the verge of collapse, and had it not been for the Falklands war they would have not been kept in office.

In the context of the destroyed government of the early nineties in Russia, there were ideas which basically turned Russia very similar to the route of oligarchic development in Latin America.

I had a word with the late Wassily Leontieff, the Nobel prize winner, he told me why don't you give out all the enterprises with the nominal price of one rouble to all people, and eventually those enterprises will find their way into the hand of the most efficient proprietors. So he was a clever man, but he couldn't imagine the state of things in the early nineties in Russia, when the state authorities could not do anything. They didn't have the legal capital and therefore privatisation could not take its right course, when taxation would have been accrued and when the rules would have been adopted, and then been implemented, but in the majority of things this didn't occur and it didn't work.

Now let's talk about the fear of state building of democracy. In 1999 I carried out the election in one of the Republics of North Caucasus, Karachaevo Circassia. The elections were carried out according to the principal of ethnicity. And when ethnic Ossetians believed that they lost in the elections, what happened was the army of the Ossetian ethnicity appeared there instantaneously overnight. Then I was head of the government. What I had to do was call representatives of Ossetian and Karachaevo Circassians to Moscow and I put them in the White House and in one room for a week to try to see to it that they would somehow agree on things. And you know the hostilities were already on there way and the shots were already fired.

End of recording.