Natalie Jaresko discusses her time as Finance Minister of Ukraine with Harvard's Future of Diplomacy Project

| Dec. 21, 2016

Natalie Jaresko (MPP ’89), former Finance Minister of Ukraine, returned to Harvard on October 31st, 2016 to take part in the Future of Diplomacy Project’s international speaker series. In a public seminar moderated by Faculty Director Nicholas Burns, Jaresko, who currently serves as chairwoman of the Aspen Institute Kyiv, reflected on her time in office from 2014 to 2016. In her two years in office, the Ukrainian government  had to contend with the Russian annexation of Crimea, a national debt crisis, widespread governmental corruption, and political instability.

Jaresko assumed the role of Finance Minister nine months after the country’s 2014 Euromaidan Revolution, which ousted former President Viktor Yanukoyvch,: “When I was asked to serve my country, I could not refuse.” Once sworn, Jaresko immediately faced obstacles as an American-born political outsider who refused to be swayed by bribery and intimidation. Instead, she stayed her course: “I just wouldn’t take the meetings,” she recalled, referring to invitations from previously influential individuals who hoped to convince Jaresko to align her plans for the national economy with individual interests. ‘’

Instead Jaresko focused on managing Ukraine’s $15 billion debt through tough fiscal policy and cooperation with the International Monetary Fund. These measures, she said, were necessary to signal the country’s commitment to fiscal responsibility and international cooperation. At the same time, she admitted that the terms of the debt restructuring have been too austere for the good of the population.  Infrastructure improvements would have to be stepped up in the near future in order to stave off economic fatigue and populism.

Jaresko expressed general optimism about the future of Ukraine, especially after the implementation of an unprecedented anti-corruption measure that forced all Ukrainian government officials to release full digital records of their assets. The law “is a huge step forward in terms of creating transparency,” she said, but could also cause deep social unrest, as the records revealed the extent of corruption amongst those in the governing class. The most encouraging feature of the current situation, in her opinion, was the enduring strength of Ukrainian civil society, which she described as vibrant and extremely resilient.

Ms. Jaresko also praised the determination and skill of the Ukrainian armed forces, who have been on the ground in eastern Ukraine since 2014. The country’s military, which was systematically reduced in size and capability after the end of the Cold War, not only recruited and trained thousands of new soldiers and contract servicemen in response to Russian aggression, she said,  but also deployed these forces according to a strategy that defended Ukrainian interests across multiple fronts of a modern hybrid war. Due to this experience, today’s Ukrainian military has much to offer Europe and NATO in the way of strategic knowledge, she said, gained from years of conflict with the country's largest neighbor.

For more information on this publication: Please contact Future of Diplomacy Project
For Academic Citation: Liliana Harrington. “Natalie Jaresko discusses her time as Finance Minister of Ukraine with Harvard's Future of Diplomacy Project.” News, , December 21, 2016.