Russia Steps Up to the Peacemaking Plate

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The guest who stayed away from NATO's Washington jamboree may still hold the key to the alliance's fate in Kosovo. While the Western alliance spent its 50th-anniversary weekend discussing the crisis in the Balkans, a 90-minute phone call between President Clinton and party pooper Boris Yeltsin appeared to yield more promise of breaking the stalemate. Mounting internal differences left NATO resolving, essentially, to maintain the status quo -- an escalating air campaign and no revision of its negotiating stance, but no serious movement toward a ground war. The one new element added to the mix is an oil embargo "enforced" by a naval blockade, although NATO sources made clear the alliance would not use force if Russian vessels refuse to comply with its stop-and-search orders. "It's a 'Mother, may I?' blockade, which the Russians can ignore if they're prepared to withstand the shame," says TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson.

Although Russia indicated Sunday that it has no intention of observing the oil embargo, that won't stop Washington's efforts at forging a diplomatic solution with the Kremlin. U.S. envoy Strobe Talbott flew to Moscow for talks Monday, while Yugoslavia allowed the head of the International Red Cross to visit three captive U.S. soldiers. Potentially even more significant than this apparent goodwill gesture was a Sunday TV interview by Milosevic's maverick deputy prime minister, Vuk Draskovic, in which he indirectly accused Milosevic of deceiving Serbs about the war in Kosovo. Draskovic urged Milosevic to compromise and accept a United Nations-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo -- the alternative mooted by Russia to the proposed NATO force rejected by Milosevic. "Draskovic's comments can't be read as a change in government policy because has virtually no authority or influence," says TIME Central Europe bureau chief Massimo Calabresi. "But he is a member of the government and it will be interesting to see how Milosevic responds." With little sign of movement on the military front, the diplomatic theater may be heating up.

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