Ukraine to sign political aspects of EU pact on Friday

BRUSSELS (REUTERS) - Ukraine will sign an agreement on closer political cooperation with the European Union on Friday, leaving the signature of a more far-reaching trade accord for later, the EU said on Monday.

EU foreign ministers said in a statement after meeting in Brussels that they looked forward to the signing of the political provisions of the so-called association agreement that Ukraine had negotiated with the 28-nation EU, on March 21.

The agreement is expected to be signed on the sidelines of an EU summit being held in Brussels that day.

An EU official said it was not yet known if Ukraine's interim prime minister, Arseny Yatseniuk, or another Ukrainian official would sign.

Pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich turned his back on signing the association agreement in favour of closer ties with Moscow last November, prompting months of street protests that eventually led to his fleeing the country.

Russian forces occupied Ukraine's Crimea region soon after Yanukovich was forced from power.

The EU has decided to split the signature of the association agreement into two parts, moving quickly to sign political chapters on political cooperation and dialogue.

The economic and trade aspects with potential to reinvigorate Ukraine's economy, will wait until after presidential elections have been held on May 25 and a new, permanent government installed in Kiev.

The ministers said they remained committed to signing the trade agreement with Ukraine.

"These steps will confirm Ukraine's free and sovereign decision to pursue Ukraine's political association and economic integration with the European Union," their statement said.

Pre-empting the trade agreement, the European Commission has agreed to extend nearly 500 million euros worth of trade benefits to Ukraine, removing duties on a wide range of agricultural goods, textiles and other imports in an effort to support the Ukrainian economy.