A pro-Russian gunman holds his weapon on Tuesday while guarding the local administration building in the center of Slovyansk, Ukraine. Amid reports by Ukrainian officials Tuesday that at least 30 pro-Russia separatists have died in a renewed crackdown in the east, Germany's foreign minister warns that Ukraine is 'close to war.' (Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP)
Amid reports by Ukrainian officials Tuesday that at least 30 pro-Russia separatists have died in a renewed crackdown in the east, Germany's foreign minister warns that Ukraine is "close to war."
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier issued his dire warning in interviews published in four European newspapers Tuesday.
He particularly noted the clashes in Odessa in which 46 people died Friday after a pro-Ukraine march led to shootings and fighting between the two sides. In the melee, a fire broke out in a building, killing people trapped inside.
"The bloody pictures from Odessa have shown us that we are just a few steps away from a military confrontation," Steinmeier told El País, Le Monde, La Repubblica and Gazeta Wyborcza.
He added that the conflict had taken on an intensity "that a short time ago we would not have considered possible."
Ukraine's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Tuesday that the latest deaths of pro-Russia separatists came in a renewed bout of fighting near Slavyansk, a stronghold of rebels in the east.
"We estimate that the terrorists lost more than 30 people," Avakov wrote in a post on Facebook. Avakov said that four troops loyal to Kiev died in the fighting and that 20 more were injured.
The Ukraine government says pro-Russia gunmen used heavy weapons against Ukraine's units involved in the "anti-terror" operation, the BBC reports.
Ukrainian forces have been cracking down on rebel strongholds in the east of the country since early last week and have sealed off the city of Slovyansk.
In a separate development, Russia said that it will move to bolster its Black Sea naval fleet with additional warships and submarines, according to the Interfax news agency, citing comments made by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
In Donetsk, a major city approximately 75 miles south of Slovyansk, flights from the local airport were suspended Tuesday.
Meanwhile, in a statement published on the Ukraine president's website, Kiev authorities announced that they were firing the acting governor in the Russian-speaking Odessa region and replacing him with Ihor Palytsya, a member of parliament.
On Saturday, Odessa's police chief was fired. The concern that Odessa could be the next region to fall to pro-Russia forces — particularly after 67 people detained in Friday's rioting were released by the police under pressure from an angry crowd — has sparked concern in Kiev.
The government sent an elite national guard force to Odessa, where it could be seen Monday patrolling the streets.
Contributing: Associated Press