EU-Ukraine political accord possible next week: Merkel

WARSAW (AFP) - A long-awaited political accord between Ukraine and the European Union could be signed as early as next week at a summit in Brussels, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday.

"We agreed to sign the political part of the association agreement with Ukraine as soon as possible, probably at the next EU summit," scheduled for March 20-21, she said at a joint press conference with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk in Warsaw.

The announcement signals an acceleration of formal ties between Brussels and Kiev's new pro-West leaders who took office last month.

Last week EU leaders agreed to ink the deal with Ukraine before the ex-Soviet state holds elections in May.

The pact, which covers both a political deal and separate trade accord, was ditched by then Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych in November, triggering months of protests that eventually led to his ouster last month.

After Mr Yanukovych fell and an interim government was installed, Brussels said the deal remained on the table but was cautious regarding when it could be signed.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, initially suggested that it would wait until after the elections when a new government took office.

But as the situation deteriorated following Russia's intervention in Ukraine's Crimea peninsula, there was growing pressure for a gesture of support for Kiev.

EU leaders also agreed last week to suspend visa liberalisation and other talks with Russia.

Ms Merkel and Mr Tusk warned in Warsaw that a "second stage of sanctions" could be imposed on Monday if Moscow fails to reverse its course on Crimea.

Fresh sanctions could include freezing personal assets of Russians or Ukrainians seen as instigating the crisis as well as a visa ban.