Foreign-born ministers in Ukraine's new cabinet

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Ukraine's newly-appointed Health Minister Alexander Kvitashvili, a Georgian national attends parliament session in Kiev, 2 Dec 2014Image source, EPA
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The new ministers face the turmoil of Ukrainian crisis politics

In an unusual development, three foreigners were appointed to Ukraine's new government this week.

US-born Natalie Jaresko became finance minister, Lithuania's Aivaras Abromavicius economy minister and Aleksandre Kvitashvili - from Georgia - health minister. Hours before the vote in the parliament that installed them, all three were granted Ukrainian citizenship by President Petro Poroshenko.

The move is part of a fresh anti-corruption drive in Kiev. Politicians and other officials supportive of the idea say outsiders in the cabinet will have fewer vested interests, or links to local lobbyists. President Poroshenko also said Ukraine should make use of "the best international experience".

But his opponents argue that Ukrainians should run their own country. Nationality is politically sensitive, as pro-Russian rebels in the east refuse to recognise the Kiev leadership.

Appointing foreigners as cabinet ministers is rare, but not unprecedented in the former Soviet Union.

In Georgia, French-born Salome Zurabishvili - ethnically Georgian - served as foreign minister in ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili's pro-Western government in 2004-05.

In 2012 in Ukraine, former Russian citizen Dmitriy Salamatin was appointed defence minister under President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia in the wake of massive pro-EU demonstrations two years later.

Natalie Jaresko, finance minister

Natalie Jaresko has more than two decades of experience in investment, finance and business strategy. She was born in the US, but is ethnically Ukrainian. Ms Jaresko received a masters degree in public policy from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in 1989, then served in various economic positions at the US Department of State.

Image source, AFP

Shortly after Ukraine gained independence in 1992, she relocated to Kiev, where she joined the economic section of the newly-opened US embassy. In 1995, she joined the Western NIS Enterprise Fund, a private equity firm which distributed US government funds, and rose to be its CEO. In 2004, she co-founded the Horizon Capital investment fund in Kiev and worked as its CEO.

Ms Jaresko won high praise from two former Ukrainian presidents, Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Yushchenko. In 2003, Mr Kuchma awarded her the Order of Princess Olha for her contribution to the Ukrainian economy. In 2005-10, she served in Mr Yushchenko's Foreign Investors Advisory Council.

Aivaras Abromavicius, economic development and trade minister

Aivaras Abromavicius is a Lithuanian-born specialist in emerging markets investment. He graduated from Concordia University in Wisconsin, USA, with a BA in international business.

Image source, Getty Images

In 1996, Mr Abromavicius started his career at Hansabank, a major bank operating in the Baltic states, which then became part of the Swedbank group, where he was appointed head of equities in 1998. He then worked for three years as head of trading at Brunswick Emerging Markets, a consultancy.

In 2002, he joined East Capital, a global investment fund which specialises in emerging markets. There, he was part of a portfolio management team for Eastern Europe.

Aleksandre Kvitashvili, health minister

Aleksandre Kvitashvili is an experienced health official from Georgia. He studied history at Tbilisi State University and in 1993 received a masters degree in public management from the Robert Wagner Graduate School of Public Service in New York. After briefly working in the US, he returned to Georgia. There, he worked for the UN Development Programme and several healthcare-related organisations.

Image source, AP

In 2008-10, he was minister of labour, health and social protection under President Saakashvili. In August 2010, Mr Kvitashvili resigned to become rector of Tbilisi State University, a post which he held until August 2013.

"I've been working on reforms in Ukraine for the past three months, but my love for this country has a much longer history," he said after his appointment on 2 December.

Mixed reaction

The appointments caused a stir in the Ukrainian media. "The authorities seem to say that there is a dearth of professionals in our country - this is not the case," said Den, an analytical daily.

Speaking to the paper, political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko questioned the new ministers' suitability for their roles. "The downside is that these people do not have any experience of how our government system works, and yet they will have to quickly decide how to reform it," he said.

Another commentator, Vadym Karasyov, called the three ministers "pigs in a poke", in an interview with Segodnya daily.

But Ukrayinska Pravda, a popular news website, welcomed the appointment of foreign professionals to the Ukrainian cabinet. "It is not clear why this should insult the national pride of some commentators," it said. "To implement reforms, we need the best professionals we can find, and their nationality does not matter."

To pro-Kremlin commentators on Russian TV, the ministers' appointment was yet more proof that Ukraine was run by "outsiders" controlled by the West. Much was made of the fact that Natalie Jaresko used to work for the US Department of State. One commentator, Mikhail Pogrebinskiy, told state-controlled Channel One that she was likely to have "dual loyalty".

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