Kosovo Endgame Tests Russia's Peace Maestro

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Looks like a busy week for Russia's Kosovo mediator, Viktor Chernomyrdin. Slobodan Milosevic says he's begun withdrawing troops from Kosovo, but NATO disputes the claim and insists on visible Yugoslav withdrawal before it calls off its bombers. But Belgrade is unlikely to move large contingents of troops while they're still open to air attack, and Chernomyrdin insisted Tuesday that Yugoslav withdrawal must be accompanied by a "simultaneous" halt in bombing. There was no sign of that Tuesday, as the alliance kept on pounding targets throughout Yugoslavia. "NATO desperately wants to stop bombing," says TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson. "But because once stopped, the bombing can't easily be restarted, the alliance is likely to err on the side of caution." So while Chernomyrdin has now assembled the elements of a peace process -- tacit agreement by all sides on the principles agreed to between Russia and NATO, and Yugoslavia's apparent willingness to withdraw troops in exchange for a halt to the bombing -- choreographing those elements into a peace sequence may prove a daunting task.

China, meanwhile, is showing no signs of being mollified by NATO apologies for bombing its Belgrade embassy. All players in the Kosovo conflict are suddenly more aware of Beijing's veto power at the U.N. Security Council, which must authorize an international peace force for the region. Although Beijing is unlikely to sabotage the process, it may intervene to ensure more favorable terms for Belgrade. "The U.S. is going to be made to pay for the embassy mistake," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "The only question is where." Perhaps in Tokyo, where discussions resumed Tuesday over China's accession to the World Trade Organization.

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