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When the Soviet regime collapsed in 1991 and the “republics” that had been ruled by that regime for most of the 20th century became sovereign states, the response in much of the Western world was a mixture of incredulity, relief and euphoria. Although the growing weakness of the regime had been known to Western intelligence agencies for several years, it had not been known to the general public. Suddenly the regime was gone, and the “Cold War” between it and the Western democracies, a conflict that had dominated the agenda of international relations for four and a half decades, seemed to have vanished also.

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