WASHINGTON - Ukraine's new leaders will likely sign a long-awaited political accord with the European Union next week, interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Wednesday after talks at the White House.
"I'm sure that next week Ukraine is to sign a political part of the association agreement and to make a very solid and strong step in order to make Ukraine an integral part of the European Union," Yatsenyuk told a Washington-based think tank following a meeting with US President Barack Obama.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said earlier Wednesday the deal could be signed possibly during the next EU summit, set for March 20-21.
Her announcement signaled an acceleration of formal ties between Brussels and Kiev's new pro-West leaders, who took office last month.
The decision last year by ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych to walk away from an association agreement with the EU sparked months of pro-democracy protests on the streets of Kiev.
Yanukovych fled late last month, bringing in a new interim leadership.
But Moscow has deployed thousands of troops in the former Soviet satellite's southern Crimea peninsula, which is now planning to vote on Sunday whether to break away from Ukraine.
"We will never surrender. We will do everything in order to save my country in order to save my people," Yatsenyuk said.
"This is not only a crisis between Ukraine and Russia. This is worse, a global crisis," he stressed.
"If Russia moves further, it will undermine global security."
Denouncing Sunday's referendum as illegitimate, the interim leader said however that he believed Russia "would be a partner in the future."
"We still believe there is an option to tackle these challenges with diplomatic tools," he told the Atlantic Council think tank.
"We need the Russian Federation immediately to pull back its forces to barracks," he said, speaking in English, adding his government was "ready to hold an open dialogue."
He also vowed to uphold all international, multilateral and bilateral treaties, including one governing the stationing of Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Crimea.