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C) is correct
A fails to use past perfect which is needed because "Those who listened" to the first speech... were struck by the ... tone.... common in speeches by Soviet leaders during the previous eighteen years.
The speech happened in a time prior to the imperfect tense context of the excerpt _________________
We commonly use "it was less common" in the last decade to fly overseas. Also A needs "and" between direct and polemical" to modify speech
or it needs a direct object at the end like "direct tone".
"had been" is not required here because the time frame is clearly stated by the last piece of the sentence. If the time frame is not stated clearly then you use "had been" to place one event before another event