Andrew Swift: A Guide to the International Conflicts Playing out at the Winter Olympics





[Andrew Swift is a researcher at Foreign Policy.]

THE SIX-PARTY TALKS ON ICE

The politics: North Korea's nuclear program has destabilized the Asian political scene for years. The six-party talks aimed at resolving the crisis -- between North Korea, South Korea, the United States, China, Japan, and Russia -- have continued intermittently, with no final, satisfactory result. The Hermit Kingdom regularly fires off ballistic missiles, enraging and scaring the interested parties, and has conducted nuclear tests to widespread international condemnation. And Barack Obama's administration has had no more luck than its predecessor in getting Kim Jong Il to play nice.

The Olympics: Women's speed skating may be a long way from the negotiating table. But every representative of the six-party talks competed in the women's speed skating 500-meter race on Feb. 16, and five of the six countries finished among the top 10 places. South Korean skater Sang-Hwa Lee won the gold, Beixing Wang of China took bronze, Japan's Sayuri Yoshii finished fifth, Heather Richardson of the United States placed sixth, and North Korean speedster Hyon-Suk Ko placed ninth. Russian skater Olga Fatkulina finished a disappointing 20th.

GEORGIA-RUSSIA

The politics: More than a year has passed since the August 2008 war between Georgia and Russia, but the two countries have hardly made up. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recently declared Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili a persona non grata, which a Saakashvili spokesman dismissed as a "boring" pronouncement. Saakashvili, for his part, has warned of a new Russian invasion and compares himself to legendary British prime minister and anti-Nazi stalwart Winston Churchill.

The Olympics: The bitter arch-rivals are facing off in the not-very-aggressive event of ice dancing, with three Russian couples (Dmitri Soloviev and Ekaterina Bobrova, Maxim Shabalin and Oksana Domnina, Sergei Novitski and Jana Khokhlova) facing Otar Japaridze and Allison Reed of Georgia. The event is also worth watching to see if Shabalin and Domnina -- favored to win -- don the controversial, "Aboriginal"-inspired costumes they've taken to wearing recently. Ice dancing kicks off on Feb. 19....


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