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BRUSSELS -- The European Commission and Ukraine's Republic of Crimea have signed a deal to boost development and improve services in the region.

On May 13, EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele pledged 12 million euros ($16.9 million) in technical assistance over the next two years to develop the Crimean port city of Sevastopol and the surrounding region, upgrade the area's infrastructure, and to modernize the tourism sector.

The European Commission will also send various experts to Crimea.

It is the first time a Ukrainian region has struck a deal directly with Brussels and it is expected that other regions will follow suit.

At a press conference, Fuele added that more cooperation could follow. "I think there is a potential for an extended relationship between the EU and Crimea, between the member states and Crimea beyond the 12 million-euro program," he said.

Crimean Prime Minister Vasyl Dzarthy, on his first visit to Brussels, expressed confidence that more deals between the EU and Crimea will follow.

"The commissioner and I agree that this agreement only can be seen as the core, the very skeleton on which we are going to grow the meat of more specific cooperation agreements," he said.

Crimea, Ukraine's only autonomous republic, has a population of about 2 million and is a popular tourist destination as a peninsula in the Black Sea.

compiled from agency reports