The centrepiece of this large volume lies towards the end, and it concerns the biggest blunder made by Moscow, which came towards the end of the existence of the USSR. At Christmas 1979, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. A very small group within the Politburo decided that it was the right thing to do, and pushed it past colleagues who were not enthusiastic but who were compelled to sign up. One Afghan ruler, who had killed his Soviet-client predecessor, was himself killed, and another Soviet client was moved in. This solved nothing: on the contrary, the country went to rack and ruin, maybe half of the population either being killed or fleeing to Pakistan. The USSR then faced a ten-year guerrilla war, which it could not win and could also not abandon. This was surely the biggest ever failure of foreign intelligence on the part of a supposed superpower, and it reinforced the general demoralisation that attended the last decades of the existence of the USSR. How on earth did the Soviet machinery of foreign intelligence fail on this scale?
The Mitrokhin archive is a large collection of documents that appeared providentially in England in 1992. The author, Vasili Mitrokhin, was one of those determined eccentrics whom Russia produces: a KGB man who had somehow been sidelined into managing collections of documents, and who copied some of them for future