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Insurers say Saturday is too soon to meet the White House’s goals on rapid tests.



Starting Saturday, new federal rules will require private insurers to cover the at-home coronavirus tests that Americans buy in pharmacies and other stores. The new system could, in theory, allow millions of people to pick up tests at thousands of locations without spending any money.

The reality, at least in the short term, is likely to be messier: Some insurers say it will probably take weeks to fully set up the system the White House envisions.

The new process will be hard, the insurers say, because over-the-counter coronavirus tests are different from the doctor’s visits and hospital stays they typically cover.

The tests do not currently have the type of billing codes that insurers use to process claims. Health plans rarely process retail receipts; instead they’ve built systems for digital claims with preset formats and long-established billing codes.

Because of this, some insurers plan to manage the rapid test claims manually at the start.

“This is taking things back to the olden days, where you’ll have a person throwing all these paper slips in a shoe box, and eventually stuffing it into an envelope and sending it off to a health insurer to decipher,” said Ceci Connolly, the chief executive of the Alliance of Community Health Plans, which represents smaller, nonprofit insurers.

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Frank Dutton, Who Took On Apartheid’s Crimes, Dies at 72




By then Mr. Dutton was something of a celebrity in South Africa. He often drew comparisons with a long list of crime fighters, real and fictional: Eliot Ness for his unimpeachability, Frank Serpico for his willingness to take on crooked cops and the television detective Columbo for his casual, sometimes disheveled demeanor that put witnesses at ease and threw adversaries off their game.

“He was seen as one of the few honest cops with courage and dedication to justice and getting the job done,” Mr. Varney, who as a human rights lawyer worked closely with Mr. Dutton, said. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s the finest detective that this country has ever produced.”

The South African government agreed. In 2012 he and Mr. Magadla, who had died in 2011, received the Order of the Baobab in Gold, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Frank Kennan Dutton was born on May 20, 1949, in Bela-Bela, a town about two hours north of Johannesburg, the son of Terry and Dorothy Dutton.

He is survived by his wife, Vanessa; his brothers Tub and Robin and his sister, Polly; his children Sally Ackerman, Paul and Brian; and seven grandchildren.

He attended Boys’ Town, a school for troubled youth, in Magaliesburg, on the western outskirts of Johannesburg, and joined South Africa’s national police force in 1966. After a year of police college in Pretoria, he was deployed to Natal Province (known today as KwaZulu Natal).

Early on he developed a reputation as an assiduous cop unafraid to butt heads with an insular, self-protective leadership. He also stood out for his willingness to partner with Black officers, even in the face of overt discrimination — when he and Mr. Magadla went out of town on assignment, they would often sleep in a jail cell, for lack of a hotel that would accommodate both of them.

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As West Mobilizes, Ukraine’s Leaders Play Down Russia Threat




KYIV, Ukraine — Russia’s military buildup on the Ukrainian border is easy to see. Satellite images show ever-growing patches of snow-covered tanks expanding along the frontier, and a stream of Russian TikTok posts records the steady westerly crawl of trains carrying missile launchers, armor and troops.

And yet despite the buildup — and even with the United States warning that an attack could come imminently, and NATO forces on alert — Ukraine’s leadership is playing down the Russian threat.

That posture has left analysts guessing about the leadership’s motivation, with some saying it is to keep the Ukrainian markets stable, prevent panic and avoid provoking Moscow, while others attribute it to the country’s uneasy acceptance that conflict with Russia is part of Ukraine’s daily existence.

Already this week, Ukraine’s defense minister has asserted that there had been no change in the Russian forces compared with a buildup in the spring; the head of the national security council accused some Western countries and news media outlets of overstating the danger for geopolitical purposes; and a Foreign Ministry spokesman took a swipe at the United States and Britain for pulling the families of diplomats from their embassies in Kyiv, saying they had acted prematurely.

This week’s proclamations came after an address to the nation last week by Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, in which he asked, “What’s new? Isn’t this the reality for eight years?”

How to interpret the threat from Russian troops and equipment massed at Ukraine’s border is a subject of intense debate. Ukraine’s own military intelligence service now says there are at least 127,000 troops on the border, significantly more than were deployed by Russia in the spring buildup.

That number does not yet include the troops and equipment arriving now in neighboring Belarus, a Russian ally, ahead of military exercises next month. The United States says those drills could be used as a pretext to place forces within striking distance of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

Even so, in an interview on Monday with the Ukrainian television station ICTV, Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, seemed to wonder what all the fuss was about.

“Today, at this very moment, not a single strike group of the Russian armed forces has been established, which attests to the fact that tomorrow they are not going to invade,” Mr. Reznikov said. “That is why I ask you to not spread panic.”

There are different reasons for the disconnect in messaging between Ukrainian officials and their American counterparts, analysts say. Mr. Zelensky must be deft in crafting a message that keeps Western aid flowing, does not provoke Russia and reassures the Ukrainian people.

And after eight years of war with Russia, experts say, Ukrainians simply calculate the threat differently than their Western allies. In 2014, Russian commando units seized the Crimean Peninsula and Russian-backed separatists tried to claw away two eastern Ukrainian provinces. Troops are dug into trenches on both sides of a so-called line of contact that frequently crackles and pops with small-arms and mortar fire. More than 13,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

“We understand the plans and intentions of Russia; for us crying out from fear is not necessary,” Oleksii Danilov, the head of Ukraine’s national security and defense council, said in an interview with the BBC published Monday.

Mr. Danilov and others in the Ukrainian government argue that sowing panic and disarray within Ukrainian society is as much a part of the Russian strategy as any eventual military action. So showing fear, even if there is a basis for it, is only handing their enemies a victory before a single shot is fired.

“The No. 1 task of Russia is the shattering of the internal situation in our country,” Mr. Danilov said. “And today, unfortunately, they are doing this successfully. Our task is to do our jobs in a calm and balanced environment.”

The United States has its own reasons for the way it has called out the Kremlin of late. Washington has to send a strong message both to Moscow and to allies in Europe, like Germany, who might be more hesitant to take a robust stance against Russia, said Maria Zolkina, a political analyst with the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, a Kyiv-based think tank.

But there is a risk that Washington’s messaging, which includes putting 8,500 troops on “high alert” for possible deployment to NATO’s eastern frontier, could provoke the Kremlin further, or at least be used to justify a more aggressive posture. On Tuesday, Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, said Moscow was watching NATO troop movements “with profound concern.”

Since taking office three years ago, Mr. Zelensky has adopted a light touch in dealing with Moscow. That seemed to pay some dividends earlier in his tenure, Ms. Zolkina said, but faced with this new crisis such an approach can appear weak.

“Now when there is a real scenario in which Russia might invade Ukraine or carry out some kind of hybrid attack on Ukraine, this kind of handling is a losing strategy for Ukraine,” she said. “The West is carrying out negotiations that don’t involve us.”

Not everyone in the country agrees with the current government’s approach. Last weekend, the leaders of Ukraine’s varied and often raucous political opposition pressed Mr. Zelensky to set aside calls for calm and prepare the country for war. A collection of Parliament members from different parties, as well as the former president, prime minister and foreign minister, signed a communiqué calling on Mr. Zelensky to mobilize Ukraine’s forces to confront “the deadly threat from Russia that is looming over Ukraine.”

“He believes that if he scares the Ukrainian people, his approval rating will go down,” Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, who was Ukraine’s prime minister when the war broke out in 2014, said of Mr. Zelensky. “If Russia starts its invasion, we have to forget about politics and the approval rating in this country because I’m not sure we will have a chance to have our next parliamentary or presidential elections.”

Ukrainians are preparing themselves, even if signs of all-out mobilization are not entirely visible. Across the country, thousands of people have signed up to learn combat skills in classes put on by the Ukrainian government and private paramilitary groups. The goal is to create a force of civilian defenders who can carry on an insurgency should the main force of the Ukrainian military be decimated in a Russian attack.

In the city of Chernihiv — about a two-hour drive due north of Kyiv and directly within path of any Russian advance on the capital — some residents expressed hope that the government would do more to prepare the country for a possible attack.

“The president and his administration see absolutely no threat,” said Lyudmila Sliusarenko, a 73-year-old retired teacher. “So anything that can be done to stop Putin will have to come from the West.

“But,” she added, “if there is an attack, the whole people will stand as one.”

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Kazakhstan’s Longtime Leader Is Gone, but Still Seemingly Everywhere




NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan — For three decades, Nursultan Nazarbayev was seemingly everywhere in Kazakhstan, the country he ruled with an autocrat’s clenched fist. The capital’s airport was named after him, as were the city’s best university, a group of elite high schools throughout the country, well-endowed foundations and wide boulevards.

Mr. Nazarbayev designed a futuristic white steel tower in the center of the city, with a gold orb on top. Inside, visitors can place their hands in a giant gold relief of Mr. Nazarbayev’s own hand, his fingers pointing out the plate-glass windows to his presidential palace in the distance. He stepped down as president in 2019 after 28 years, but retained power and influence as the official “Leader of the Nation.” His rubber-stamp Parliament renamed the capital city in his honor.

It was an open secret that he was the one still calling the shots.

Now, the man who was everywhere, and who controlled everything, has all but vanished after violent protests this month that spread like wildfire and marked the country’s greatest political upheaval since it became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Political power now rests with Mr. Nazarbayev’s handpicked successor, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who stripped his longtime boss and mentor of his title and his last remaining footholds of power. Except for making a brief video statement, the former leader has receded, the speed of his fall from power almost as stunning as the length of his reign.

In the days after the protests, Kazakhstan was closed to many outsiders. A visit to Nur-Sultan soon after it reopened revealed that life in the bureaucratic city, populated by many civil servants, had mostly returned to normal. On a recent weekend, shoppers braving the risks of the coronavirus perused the Khan Shatyr mall, designed by the British architect Norman Foster in the shape of a large tent, with visitors searching for post-holiday sales.

The calm stood in contrast to the nation’s largest city, Almaty, where violence and looting and brutal police crackdowns have traumatized residents, some of whom are still searching for relatives who disappeared. Almaty’s monumental City Hall was vandalized during the unrest and burned for three days, leaving a gutted, blackened shell.

Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic with a population of 19 million, faces an uncertain future. Mr. Nazarbayev had maintained a fragile independence from Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia, but Mr. Tokayev was forced to call for Russian-led military support to help quell the violence this month, raising the question of whether he is beholden to the Russian leader for helping to assure his political survival. As Mr. Putin squares off against the West in a standoff over Ukraine, the Russian president has made clear his intention to maintain influence over neighboring countries.

Internally, Mr. Tokayev has promised overhauls to address the country’s ballooning inequality — the reason that spawned the protests in the first place.

Leysan Zoripova, 50, who was visiting her daughter in Nur-Sultan, said, “We are of course waiting for better days, when products are available and essential things like groceries were not so expensive.”

“But,” she added, “all this violence wasn’t necessary.”

With Mr. Nazarbayev’s legacy so pervasive, the question is whether anything will truly change in a country rich in resources, but where autocratic rule had allowed Mr. Nazarbayev’s family and friends to reap great wealth and keep it concentrated in the hands of a few.

“The formal and informal construction of the regime remains the same,” said Dimash Alzhanov, one of the founding members of Wake Up, Kazakhstan, an opposition movement whose activists have been regularly harassed and detained. “The relations between elites — the way they construct patron-client relations — remains the same.”

Mr. Nazarbayev grew up in a rural town near Almaty, the former capital. He was a steelworker before joining the Communist Party, rising through the ranks to regional party secretary. In 1984, he became prime minister of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Kazakhstan.

Mr. Nazarbayev became the first president of Kazakhstan in 1990, and the next year, just weeks before the collapse of Soviet Union, Kazakhstan declared its independence. It was the only newly independent former Soviet state where its titular people — Kazakhs — were not the ethnic majority. Forty percent of the population were ethnic Russian, a number that has since dropped to 19 percent.

At the time, President Boris N. Yeltsin of Russia was speaking openly about wanting to expand his country’s borders to include Abkhazia, a region of Georgia that Russia eventually invaded in 2008; and Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014. He also coveted Donbas, the eastern part of Ukraine where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting since the annexation.

Northern Kazakhstan was the fourth region in Mr. Yeltsin’s sights, but Russian forces never showed up uninvited, and today it is the only region of the four that is not contested.

In part, that’s because even his toughest critics acknowledge that Mr. Nazarbayev handled thorny relations with Moscow in a savvy manner. When he moved the capital from Almaty to a windy, grassland site in the north (the new capital was previously called Astana), it was not a pure vanity project; he was effectively planting a flag.

He championed a “multivector” foreign policy, balancing between his powerful neighbors Russia and China while also courting U.S. investment, especially in the oil-rich west. His mantra for development was, “Economics first, politics later.”

But over 28 years, Mr. Nazarbayev’s reign came to look more like kleptocracy. His family enjoyed vast riches, with influence in the banking and extraction industries and real estate in Switzerland, London and New York.

A recent report by the think tank Chatham House listed 34 properties bought by members of the country’s ruling elite from 1998 to 2020 at a total cost of about $733 million. Most of the purchases were made by members of the Nazarbayev family or people close to them, according to John Heathershaw, one of the report’s authors.

Mr. Nazarbayev’s middle daughter, Dinara, and her husband, Timur Kulibayev, were each worth $3 billion before the recent unrest in Kazakhstan, according to Forbes, and they own the country’s biggest bank. His eldest daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva, an amateur opera singer and politician, and her son own real estate in London worth almost $200 million. Their properties are said to include the house at 221B Baker Street that is the address of the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.

Mr. Nazarbayev’s youngest daughter, Aliya, had a monopoly on the recycling industry through a private company called Operator ROP, which has taken in about $1.6 billion since 2016, according to remarks by Serikkali Brekeshev, a Kazakh minister, in a government meeting this month.

The cronyism and corruption chafed at working-class citizens who grew weary of government-connected businesspeople funneling money to themselves.

Posing with her teenage daughter for a photograph with the presidential palace in the background, Gulya Chumkent, 48, said that Mr. Nazarbayev had taken advantage of his position.

“Of course it wasn’t right that he enriched himself,” she said. “But it wasn’t in our power to do anything about it.”

Mr. Tokayev acknowledged the vast wealth accumulated by his predecessor’s family for the first time in a speech to Parliament on Jan. 11.

“Thanks to the first president, Elbasy,” he said, using the Kazakh term for Leader of the Nation, “a group of very profitable companies emerged in the country, as well as a group of people whose wealth is significant even by international standards.”

His criticism was striking in a country where denouncing the government can sometimes be cause for arrest. A 2010 law makes it impossible to sue Mr. Nazarbayev or his family members, and it makes all of his and his family’s banking documents secret.

Mr. Tokayev also demanded that local governments cancel contracts with Operator ROP, which many took as a sign of the beginning of a process to unravel Mr. Nazarbayev’s grip on profit-making centers.

Mr. Nazarbayev’s nephew, Samat Abish, was dismissed as deputy of the powerful security agency. The sovereign wealth fund said that two Nazarbayev in-laws had left top posts at national energy companies. And Mr. Kulibayev, the son-in-law, resigned as head of Kazakhstan’s leading business lobby, though he retained positions in an influential energy group and on the board of Russia’s Gazprom.

On Tuesday, Mr. Tokayev fired the head of the Central Election Commission, whose daughter is married to one of Ms. Nazarbayeva’s sons.

Many Kazakhs are waiting to see how Mr. Tokayev’s approach will differ from that of his predecessor.

Erzhan Kazykhan, an adviser to Mr. Tokayev, said that his country was committed to democratic reforms. Still, he demurred when asked if the post-Nazarbayev period would herald a new era of genuine political competition.

“You cannot build a Jeffersonian democracy overnight,” he said in an interview.

Regardless of who Mr. Tokayev brings into his inner circle, Mr. Nazarbayev’s effective removal from control has emboldened people, said Zhanbolat Mamai, an opposition politician. He cited what he said was a crucial difference between the two men.

“For 30 years, people were afraid of Mr. Nazarbayev,” Mr. Mamai said. “No one is afraid of Mr. Tokayev.”

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