Moscow is promoting a plan under which NATO troops enter Kosovo as part of a peacekeeping force under neutral command while the Serbs retain some forces in the province. But Russia is threatening to quit as peace-broker if NATO bombing doesn't end soon. And there was no sign of that Friday as the alliance completed its heaviest 24-hour bombing of the entire campaign. One key indicator to watch for signs of a diplomatic breakthrough is Ahtisaari's itinerary, since he has said he won't meet with Milosevic until NATO and Russia agree to a workable peace deal. And instead of going to Belgrade Friday, he went back to confer with Schroeder, the man who dragged him into all of this.
The indictment of Slobodan Milosevic as a war criminal may complicate diplomatic efforts to end the Kosovo conflict, but it's not as if those efforts had been on the verge of a breakthrough. Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin flew into Belgrade alone Friday, having been stood up once again by the European Union's mediator, Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari. After three-way talks with U.S. envoy Strobe Talbott in Moscow, Ahtisaari went instead to Germany for talks with EU president and German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, although Chernomyrdin promised that he and the Finn would return to Belgrade next week. "Things are not looking good on the diplomatic front right now," says TIME Central Europe bureau chief Massimo Calabresi. "The indictment doesn't preclude negotiations over military control over Kosovo, although some believe it may make Milosevic more obdurate. But the Americans, the Russians and Milosevic all appear to have hardened their negotiating positions recently."