Monday, July 31, 2017

Israelis Gather For Prayers In Jerusalem's Old City, The UN Doesn't Like Free Societies & Liberty, U.S. Helicopter Fires Flares At Armed Iranian Ships

Israelis gather in Jerusalem's Old City after weeks of tensions over Temple Mount

Thousands of Jews attended prayers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem to observe the start of the Tisha B’Av fasting day on Monday night, days after violence shook

Prayer leaders read aloud from the Book of Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah’s biblical account of the destruction of the First Jewish Temple by invading Babylonians in 586 BC.

The Western Wall is a remnant of the Second Jewish Temple, built on the site of the first and destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

The wall is at the foot of the Temple Mount compound, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the golden-topped Dome of the Rock in the heart of the Old City, the third-holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

It is the most sacred site for Jews, who revere it as the location of the two destroyed temples.
Tisha B’Av commemorates the destruction of both temples, as well several other disasters in Jewish history.
The event comes after relative calm returned to Jerusalem following nearly two weeks of Palestinian protests over security measures at the Temple Mount, installed after a July 14 terror attack in which three Israeli Arabs shot dead two Israeli Druze policemen with weapons they had smuggled onto the compound.

While many of the thousands of worshipers at the Western Wall on Monday evening were religious, recognizable by the men’s skullcaps and women’s long dresses, secular Jews also attended the ceremonies.
“I’m not really religious but it’s important for me to come here for this commemoration, this day of mourning,” said 25-year-old Leora Kaufman.
“Tisha B’Av is also a reminder of the need to stay united,” she said.

"The United Nations has become a threat to the liberal international order. It weakens the constitution of liberal democratic states by attacking the political and cultural conditions required for their survival. It attacks the security of free-world countries and the common values that underpin free societies. In recent years, UN leadership has become more hostile to free citizens and politicians who dissent from illiberal supranational rule.

The UN often acts against the free world by targeting politicians who defend the liberty, security and safety of free citizens. In particular, UN chiefs target pro-Western politicians who defend the free world by upholding democratic rule over supranational rule and adopt secure border policy to keep free societies free. During the US presidential campaign, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said he didn't intend to interfere with political campaigns but declared Donald Trump 'dangerous from an international point of view'.

UN members attack the free world by smearing pro-Western politicians with propaganda terms such as xenophobia, Islamophobia, racism and populism. Its leadership has framed democratic citizens' defence of free-world countries as 'xenophobia'. They call democratically elected politicians who represent their people and protect them from harm 'populist'. They claim secure border policy is a form of nationalism and by extension (in UN thought), an abuse of human rights. And they depict the UN as a bastion of benevolent internationalism, despite its track record...

The UN rails against conservative party politicians who defend secure border policy so that Western democracy and open society and can flourish. Human rights chief Hussein described right-wing Western politicians as 'demagogues' and compared their 'tactics' with those of genocidal Islamic State.

However, the UN adopts a comparatively accommodationist approach to closed and illiberal -societies under Islamist and communist rule. Last year, the UN General Assembly honoured communist dictator Fidel Castro with a minute of silence. On that day, as on so many others, it entertained attacks on Israel's sovereignty by Islamists. And the UN is yet to explain how its benevolent internationalism includes the Organisation of Islamic Co¬operation's redefinition of human rights to disallow freedoms 'contrary to the principles of the sharia'... Liberal internationalists need to ¬acknowledge there's something rotten in the state of the UN."

A United States Navy helicopter fired flares on Friday at Iranian vessels that approached a group of American ships “at a high rate of speed,” in the latest Persian Gulf encounter between U.S. and Iranian forces.

The helicopter, which was attached to the USS Nimitz and an accompanying warship, was patrolling in international airspace when it noticed a number of rocket-bearing Iranian vessels, according to the Navy.
After the helicopter’s attempts to establish communications with the Iranian ships were not answered, it fired flares and the Iranians stopped their approach.

Iran presented the incident in a different light. Mimicking a frequent U.S. Navy chargeabout Iranian conduct in the Persian Gulf, the IRGC claimed that the U.S. Navy behaved in a “provocative and unprofessional” manner.

“At 4:00 PM Friday, July 28, US Nimitz-class aircraft carrier accompanied by its warship, while under surveillance by IRGC missile boats, began flying a helicopter over the ‘Resalat’ gas-oil field and approaching IRGC vessels,” the IRGC said in a statement.

It added that “the US warships in a provocative and unprofessional move began firing warning shots at the Iranian vessels, to which the IRGC Navy’s ships paid no attention and continued with their mission.”

Earlier last week, an Iranian ship came within 150 yards of the USS Thunderboltprompting the U.S. patrol boat to fire warning shots.

When we reported yesterday about Putin's surprisingly harsh response to last week's House legislation to launch new sanctions against Russia, which also binds Trump from unilaterally removing sanctions without getting Congressional approval, we concluded that "now we await the US re-retaliation in what is once again the same tit-for-tat escalation that marked the latter years of the Obama regime, as the US Military Industrial Complex breathes out a sigh of relief that for all the posturing by Trump, things between Russia and the US are back on autopilot."

We didn't have long to wait.
The WSJ reports that, in what appears to be the next gambit by the U.S. Military-Industrial Complex (or "deep state" for those so inclined) to force Trump to "prove" that he did not, in fact, collude or have any ties with Russia or Vladimir Putin, Pentagon and State Department officials have devised plans to hit Russia where it hurts the most, and supply Ukraine with antitank missiles and other weaponry, and are now seeking White House approval at a time when ties between Moscow and Washington are as bad as during any point under the Obama administration.
American military officials and diplomats say the arms, which they characterized as defensive, are meant to deter aggressive actions by Moscow, which the U.S. and others say has provided tanks and other sophisticated armaments as well as military advisers to rebels fighting the Kiev government.

The question of course is, "why now?" Since the start of the Crimean conflict, which in turn was the byproduct of a State Department-facilitiated presidential coup in Ukraine, the US has been supporting Russian-speaking insurgents in the country’s east however Washington, wary of escalating the conflict, has largely limited its support for Kiev’s military to so-called non-lethal aid and training.
So one attempt at "why now", is because with Trump reeling, and having already caved on the latest Congressional anti-Russia bill, why not push the president to escalate the Russia conflict to a point where not even his predecessor dared to take it. For now, Trump is unaware of the plan:

A senior administration official said there has been no decision on the armaments proposal and it wasn’t discussed at a high-level White House meeting on Russia last week. The official said President Donald Trump hasn’t been briefed on the plan and his position isn’t known.

Meanwhile, setting the stage for the escalation, a Pentagon spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Michelle L. Baldanza, said the U.S. has not “ruled out the option” of providing “lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine.” U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis has endorsed the plan, according to U.S. officials quoted by the WSJ.
Going back three years, when the Obama administration considered supplying arms to Ukraine - and ultimately refused to do so -  it faced considerable opposition from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other allied leaders and instead provided Kiev with short-range radar, night-vision goggles and other equipment. 
So, ironically, just as Trump's imminent signing into law of the Congressional sanctions against Russia, which as we explained before, have already infuriated Europe, so any further escalation in Ukraine will likely add to Europe's animosity toward the US.

Meanwhile, NATO continues to deploy even more troops to countries in the Baltics, Central and Eastern Europe, something which Russia has warned it takes as an act of aggression. Over weapons deliveries to Ukraine rebels may be just the spark that finally launches an armed conflict between Russia and NATO.

And another amusing detour: the WSJ writes that "U.S. and European officials are divided on how Moscow would respond to new arms shipments. Some believe it would push Moscow back to the bargaining table and others think it would prompt the Russian military to escalate the situation further.
Spoiler alert: it would be the latter, and most likely with devastating consequences. John McCain, for one, is delighted.

Much has been said about NATO reinforcements in the Baltic States and Poland perceived in Moscow as provocative actions undermining security in Europe, while very little has been said about gradual but steady militarization of Scandinavia. The theme does not hit headlines and it is not in focus of public discourse but one step is taken after another to turn the region into a springboard for staging offensive actions against Russia.

Norway is being expanded to become Norway’s main air force base hosting US-made F-35 Lightnings – the stealth aircraft to become the backbone of Norwegian air power. Norway has purchased 56 of such aircraft. F-35 is an offensive, not defensive, weapon. The nuclear capable platforms can strike deep into Russia’s territory.
Providing training to Norwegian pilots operating the planes carrying nuclear weapons, such as B61-12 glider warheads, constitutes a violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968.

The choice of the base was carefully calculated to keep the planes away from the reach of Russian Iskander missiles (500 kilometres) but no location in Norway is beyond the operational range of Kalibr ship-based sea-to-shore missiles and aircraft armed with long-range air-to-surface missiles.

In June, Norway’s government announced that the decision was taken to extend the rotational US Marine Corps force stationed at Værnes through 2018. The move contradicts the tried-and-true Norwegian policy of not deploying foreign military bases in the country in times of peace.

Also in June, the United States, United Kingdom and Norway agreed in principle to create a trilateral coalition built around the P-8 maritime aircraft to include joint operations in the North Atlantic near the Russian Northern Fleet bases.

The facts listed above show the situation is grave enough to top the agenda of the NATO-Russia Council. But it’s not the case as yet. Last year, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the current President of Germany who was Foreign Minister at the time, slammed NATO for «saber-rattling and war cries» and provocative military activities in the proximity of Russia’s borders. He called for an arms control deal between the West and Russia. Fifteen other members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) joined Steinmeier's initiative: France, Italy, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Spain, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Sweden, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Portugal.

Russia’s proposal to discuss a new European security treaty was rejected by the West. The draft document was published in 2009. In March 2015, Russia expressed its readiness for negotiations concerning a new agreement regarding the control of conventional weapons in Europe.

Is S Korea Planning A 'Surgical Strike' To Take Out Kim Jong-Un, U.S. Detects 'Highly Unusual' N Korean Submarine Activity, Why The U.S. Government May Take Military Action Against N Korea

South Korean military strategists are reportedly preparing a contingency “surgical strike” against North Korean command, nuclear and missile facilities, which would be initiated by President Moon Jae-in’s Special Forces in the event of an emergency, according to a report in South Korean newspaper Munwha Ilbo.
Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Ministry of National Defense have taken the lead on designing the operation, rather than the National Security Office or Weapons of Mass Destruction department, according to the report that was published on Monday — three days after North Korea’s second suspected intercontinental ballistic missile test.
The NSO and WMD teams have been tasked with establishing separate "precision strike" plans for responding to a nuclear or conventional ballistic missile scenario that has "reached the critical threshold of the Red Line," the news agency said.  

According to Munwha Ilbo, the plan mobilizes F-15 jets to target key operational command centers in the North, most notably "the windows of the office of the Chairman of the Labor Party, Kim Jong-un, at the Pyongyang Labor Party headquarters." Unnamed military officials told the news outlet that "surgical" counter-strike plans were being drafted as early as March 31.
Moon has reportedly requested the creation of a new 1,000 to 2,000-person Special Forces brigade "to eliminate war leaderships" and "paralyze command facilities in case of emergency."

The US military has detected "highly unusual and unprecedented levels" of North Korean submarine activity and evidence of an "ejection test" in the days following Pyongyang's second intercontinental ballistic missile launch this month, a defense official told CNN on Monday.

An ejection test examines a missile's "cold-launch system," which uses high-pressure steam to propel a missile out of the launch canister into the air before its engines ignite, preventing damage to the submarine or submersible barge that would launch the missile.

Carried out on land at Sinpo Naval Shipyard, Sunday's ejection test is the third time this month -- and fourth this year -- that North Korea has conducted a trial of the missile component that is critical to developing submarine launch capabilities, according to the US defense official.

Coupled with reports of increased submarine activity, news of another ejection test comes amid concerns over North Korea's launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile that appears to have the range to hit major US cities on Friday.

Experts believe if Friday's test had been fired on a flatter, standard trajectory, it could have threatened cities like Los Angeles, Denver and Chicago.

President Donald Trump told reporters at his second full Cabinet meeting that his administration will be able to take care of North Korea but offered no specifics about what he plans to do.

"We will handle North Korea. We are gonna be able to handle them. It will be handled. We handle everything," Trump said after a reporter asked him about his strategy.

When taken together, these developments are concerning because North Korea says it is trying to develop a missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the United States.

Two US defense officials told CNN at the time that the North Korean Romeo-class submarine was engaged in "unusual deployment activity" in the waters off the coast of Japan and was patrolling farther that it has ever gone, sailing some 100 kilometers out to sea in international waters.

North Korea has an almost entirely state-run economy complete with entitlement and welfare programs, which are hallmarks of socialism.
The country is plagued by national food shortages because of failures in the government’s tightly controlled socialist economic system. Heavy sanctions by world governments have restricted economic growth. Dynastic government rule prevents citizens from becoming self-reliant and military-first politics have imposed a heavy burden on the economy.
On 04/21/2017, the North Korean military threatened to launch pre-emptive nuclear strikes at American military bases in South Korea, Japan and beyond. China, North Korea’s main ally, warned of “storm clouds gathering” and urged both sides to exercise restraint because they are afraid that the U.S. might use military force to take out the North’s nuclear capability if the Pentagon believes that Kim Jong Un is going to act pre-emptively.

Another alternative is for the U.S. government to cut a trade deal with China to persuade them to impose more sanctions upon North Korea. President Trump has had some success using this strategy because in 02/2017, China decided to cut off North Korea’s coal imports to coerce the North’s government into ending its nuclear weapons program.
In 03/2017, a month after the China sanctions were imposed, the North Korean state media announced another missile test, saying that it would allow them to achieve world-class satellite-launch capability, bringing them closer to producing an ICBM.

On 04/16/2017, North Korea flouted China’s sanctions by conducting another missile test. Although the test was a failure, it proves that Kim Jong UN has decided to continue the development of his ICBM technology despite the sanctions.
This has resulted in the humiliation of China’s government, because it’s now clear to every nation that China has lost their former political clout with North Korea.
John Schilling, a North Korea expert and aerospace engineer said, “Every nation with North Korea’s level of demonstrated expertise in nuclear weapons development has at least been able to fit their low-yield nuclear warheads into missiles.”
“If the North Koreans felt compelled to put one of their warheads on one of their missiles and fire it tomorrow, odds are it would work.”
US experts believe North Korea will be able to launch a reliable, nuclear ICBM capable of hitting the continental U.S. as early as 2018.
On 07/25/2017, Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that North Korea has threatened a nuclear attack on “the heart of the US” if it attempts to remove Kim Jong Un as Supreme Leader.

The threat was in response to CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who commented last week that the Trump administration needed to find a way to separate Kim from his growing nuclear stockpile.

Because the China sanctions have not deterred Kim Jong Un from continued missile tests, in April of 2017, the United States sent an aircraft carrier strike group to the region to show the dictator that the U.S. government is prepared to use military force if necessary to destroy their nuclear capability.

The only remaining non-military alternative is to oust Kim Jong Un from power through a regime change. Although the Chinese government might have the desire to do that—Beijing has little sympathy for Kim Jong Un because he cleansed his regime of its China sympathizers after coming to power five years ago—they will not increase sanctions any further because they support the existence of North Korea as an independent state.

This is because if the North’s economy were to collapse, millions of South Koreans would migrate north, creating a unified Korea, filling the power vacuum created by North Korea’s demise.

Since China will not use harsher sanctions to bring down North Korea, the U.S. could step in and attempt to end both the Kim regime and North Korea itself by causing an economic collapse.

In order to achieve that outcome, the U.S. would need to cut off all North Korean access to U.S. dollars by convincing the Chinese banks and all the other companies doing business with the North to cease all economic activity.

Any attempt to take down North Korea’s economy by the U.S. will fail however, because China’s banks won’t participate in the boycott of North Korean businesses because the Chinese government doesn’t want the North Korean economy to collapse.

The only remaining option is to take out North Korea’s nuclear capability through the use of military force.

For the U.S. to use this option, they must provide South Korea with a strong enough missile defense shield to protect them from North Korean missile strikes when the North retaliates.

South Korea currently has a missile strike system that detects signs of an impending nuclear missile launch and preemptively launches cruise missiles at North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile bases.

The South’s missile defense system is not perfect however, because it cannot take down submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The North proved in 2016 that they have that capability.

In order to strengthen South Korea’s missile defenses, the U.S. government has deployed their military’s anti-ballistic missile system, named Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD). South Korea’s defense ministry has claimed that it is close to operational.

Because Kim Jong Un has vowed to strike the continental United States with a nuclear weapon, when U.S. intelligence agencies and the Pentagon determine that Kim Jong Un is close to acquiring a nuclear ICBM, the Trump administration will be forced to use the military option and eliminate North Korea’s nuclear capability.

In response, Kim Jong Un would deploy his huge army, march on Seoul and kill as many South Koreans as possible using conventional weapons.

The dictator could also launch short-range missiles at the capital city, which has a population of approximately 10 million people.
Even if most of those missiles never reach Seoul because of THAAD and South Korea’s missile defense shield, there is still the possibility that at least several would make it through and kill many South Koreans.

“North Korea could potentially cause massive damage to Seoul and its surrounding areas” in a conflict, Dr. Bruce Bennett, a senior defense researcher at the RAND Corporation, previously told the DCNF.

“If North Korea restrains itself and only employs conventional weapons in an assault on South Korea, it is unlikely to overwhelm South Korea’s defenses. But if it uses weapons of mass destruction and other asymmetric approaches, the North may be able to overcome South Korean defenses—there are always large uncertainties in any war.”

The prospect of an eventual North Korean nuclear retaliation against South Korea might have been the reason behind President Trump’s suggestion last year to provide nuclear weapons to the South and to Japan.

That would not be a viable deterrent, because if the South nuked Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, it still would not stop the mad North Korean dictator from continuing his nuclear ICBM program.
The facts presented in this article lead to the inescapable conclusion that Kim Jong Un’s threats are real and that there are no diplomatic solutions, no amount of sanctions and no viable plan for regime change that can stop him from eventually acquiring a nuclear ICBM.
This puts the Trump administration in a dilemma, because if they use the military option and destroy the North’s nuclear capability, Kim Jong Un will retaliate against the South and kill millions of innocent South Korean civilians.
The clock is ticking however, and if the U.S. government doesn’t take military action soon, Kim Jong Un will be in a position to launch a nuclear strike against the continental United States, which he has vowed to do, and destroy any large American city within range of his ICBM, killing millions of U.S. civilians.

Bible Studies At The White House: Who's Inside This Spiritual Awakening?

Bible Studies at the White House: Who's Inside This Spiritual Awakening?

A spiritual awakening is underway at the White House.
Some of the most powerful people in America have been gathering weekly to learn more about God's Word, and this Trump Cabinet Bible study is making history.
They've been called the most evangelical Cabinet in history – men and women who don't mince words when it comes to where they stand on God and the Bible.
Ralph Drollinger of Capitol Ministries told CBN News, "These are godly individuals that God has risen to a position of prominence in our culture."
They're all handpicked by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
"I don't think Donald Trump has figured out that he chained himself to the Apostle Paul," Drollinger laughed.
Drollinger is a former NBA-playing giant of a man with an even bigger calling. He founded Capitol Ministries with the idea that if you change the hearts of lawmakers, then their Christian world view will guide them to make good policies.
He's started Bible studies in 40 state capitols, a number of foreign capitols, teaches weekly studies in the U.S. House and Senate and now leads about a dozen members of President Trump's Cabinet in weekly studies of the scriptures.
Health Secretary Tom Price, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Agriculture Secretary Sunny Perdue, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo are just a few of the regulars.
"It's the best Bible study that I've ever taught in my life. They are so teachable; they're so noble; they're so learned," Drollinger said.
It's groundbreaking since he doesn't think a formal Bible study among executive Cabinet members has been done in at least 100 years.
America's top cop, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, also attends the study.
"He'll (Jeff Sessions) go out the same day I teach him something and I'll see him do it on camera and I just think, 'Wow, these guys are faithful, available and teachable and they're at Bible study every week they're in town,'" Drollinger said.

President Trump is invited to attend the Bible studies, too. Each week he receives a copy of Drollinger's teaching.
And Vice President Pence is also planning to join the study as his schedule permits. He also serves as a sponsor.
In Pence, Drollinger sees many similarities to biblical figures like Joseph, Mordecai and Daniel – all men who rose to the number two position in governments at different times in history.
"Mike Pence has respect for the office. He dresses right - like it says Joseph cleaned himself up before he went to stand before the Pharaoh," Drollinger told CBN News.
"Mike Pence has uncompromising biblical tenacity and he has a loving tone about him that's not just a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal," he continued. "And then fourthly, he brings real value to the head of the nation."   
Like others, Drollinger often compares President Trump to biblical strongman Samson.
"I just praise God for them," he said. "And I praise God for Mike Pence, who I think with Donald Trump chose great people to lead our nation."

Sunday, July 30, 2017

U.S. Bombers Fly Over S Korea, U.S.: 'The Time For Talk Is Over'

US bombers fly over South Korea after North's second ICBM test

The United States flew two supersonic bombers over the Korean Peninsula on Sunday in a show of force against North Korea following the country’s latest intercontinental ballistic missile test. The US also said it conducted a successful test of a missile defense system located in Alaska.
The B-1 bombers were escorted by South Korean fighter jets as they performed a low-pass over an air base near the South Korean capital of Seoul before returning to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, the US Pacific Air Forces said in a statement.

It said the mission was a response to North Korea’s two ICBM tests this month. Analysts say flight data from the North’s second test, conducted Friday night, showed that a broader part of the mainland United States, including Los Angeles and Chicago, is now in range of Pyongyang’s weapons.

Vice President Mike Pence said Sunday during a visit to Estonia that the US and its allies plan to increase pressure on North Korea to end its nuclear program.

“The continued provocations by the rogue regime in North Korea are unacceptable and the United States of America is going to continue to marshal the support of nations across the region and across the world to further isolate North Korea economically and diplomatically,” Pence said. “But the era of strategic patience is over. The president of the United States is leading a coalition of nations to bring pressure to bear until that time that North Korea will permanently abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile program.”

“The time for talk is over,” US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said in a statement. She denied reports that Washington would seek an emergency session of the UN Security Council, saying that new sanctions that fail to increase pressure would be “worse than nothing.”
Haley said a weak resolution would show North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that “the international community is unwilling to challenge him,” and singled out China, the North’s biggest trading partner, as a country that must change its approach.
Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, Pacific Air Forces commander, called North Korea “the most urgent threat to regional stability.”
“Diplomacy remains the lead. However, we have a responsibility to our allies and our nation to showcase our unwavering commitment while planning for the worst-case scenario,” O’Shaughnessy said. “If called upon, we are ready to respond with rapid, lethal, and overwhelming force at a time and place of our choosing.”

Putin Shows Off Russia's Naval Might With Major Parade, Cuts U.S. Diplomatic Presence By 755 People,

Putin shows off Russia's naval might with major parade

President Vladimir Putin on Sunday oversaw a pomp-filled display of Russia's naval might as the Kremlin paraded its sea power from the Baltic Sea to the shores of Syria.
Some 50 warships and submarines were on show along the Neva River and in the Gulf of Finland off the country's second city of Saint Petersburg after Putin ordered the navy to hold its first ever parade on such a grand scale.
"Today much is being done to develop and modernise the navy," Putin told servicemen after surveying the military hardware from his presidential cutter.
"The navy is not only dealing with its traditional tasks but also responding with merit to new challenges, making a significant contribution to the fight against terrorism and piracy."
The showcase event to mark Russia's annual Navy Day is the latest to be beefed up by Putin, with the Kremlin strongman also bolstering the traditional WWII victory parade in Moscow as he looks to flex the country's military muscles.

Russia has ramped up its military manoeuvres as ties with the West have slumped over Moscow's meddling in Ukraine, unnerving NATO and its members in Eastern Europe.
Smaller naval parades were also taking place from Russia's European exclave Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea to the annexed Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and Vladivostok in the far-east.
For the first time Moscow also showed off its naval hardware at its Syrian base of Tartus in the eastern Mediterranean, where Russian ships have played a prominent role backing up a bombing campaign in support of leader Bashar al-Assad.
Russian news wire Interfax reported that six vessels -- including the latest generation "Krasnodar" diesel submarine -- were taking part in the parade.
Moscow and Damascus in January signed a 49-year deal for Russia to expand and modernise the facility at Tartus, further cementing the Kremlin's influence in the region after its game-changing military intervention.

US diplomatic presence in Russia will be cut by 755 people, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Sunday.
The president said that the cut will make the diplomatic missions of Russia and the United States working in the both countries equal.
"The personnel of the US diplomatic missions in Russia will be cut by 755 people and will now equal the number of the Russian diplomatic personnel in the United States, 455 people on each side," Putin said in an interview with channel.

Putin pointed out that he believes that the reduction is considerable given that over a thousand American personnel who currently live and work in Russia will have to go back to the United States.
"Because over a thousand employees, diplomats and technical personnel have been working and are still working in Russia, and 755 of them will have to seize their work in the Russian Federation. It’s considerable," Putin added.
Earlier this week, the US Congress approved a bill on new sanctions against Iran, North Korea and Russia, with the White House saying that Trump intended to sign it. The sanctions, if adopted, will impose further restrictive measures on Russia, particularly against the energy industry, due to Moscow's alleged interference in 2016 US presidential election and Ukraine’s internal affairs.
Speaking on the new sanctions, Putin said that Russia will not leave the Congress bill without a response. However, Putin noted, he opposes limitations in any sphere of joint activities with the United States that "could be sensitive" to Washington.
"We could imagine, theoretically, that one day a moment would come when the damage of attempts to put pressure on Russia will be comparable to the negative consequences of certain limitations of our cooperation. Well, if that moment ever comes, we could discuss other response options. But I hope it will not come to that. As of today, I am against it."
Putin said on Sunday that anti-terrorism fight, Syrian settlement and non-proliferation weapons of mass destruction are key areas of Russia's cooperation with the United States.

The European Commission has launched an infringement procedure against Poland’s government after the nation ignored repeated warnings by Brussels to not proceed with long-promised judicial reform measures.

Having already previously made multiple threats, the European Commission [EC] sent a Letter of Formal Notice to the governing Law and Justice party [Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc, PiS] on Saturday, July 29th, a day after the publication of the government policy document outlining the forthcoming changes.
The EC stated they had a ‘key legal concern’ in court laws requiring female judges to retire at the age of 60, while their male counterparts would continue to work until 65, which they said is seen as contrary to gender equality in employment.
The EC has also set out their concerns with giving the justice minister too much power to dismiss and appoint court presidents.
“The new rules allow the Minister of Justice to exert influence on individual ordinary judges, through, in particular, the vague criteria for the prolongation of their mandates thereby undermining the principle of irremovability of judges” the EC stated in a press release.
Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) explained in a statement on Saturday that the judge’s retirement age was simply adjusted to match the national ages of retirement for both sexes, which has been in force since the Law and Justice government repealed the previous retirement reform. Before the latest reforms, both men and women had to work until 67.
The MFA stressed that ‘social policy and organisation of the judiciary fall within the competence of the member states’ and that the issues would be ‘set out in detail in a Polish position on the European Commission’s reservations.’
The legal action against Poland comes after the EC’s vice president Hans Timmermans, who has in the past branded Viktor Orban an anti-Semite for criticising George Soros, said Wednesday that Article 7, a legal process that would suspend Poland’s voting rights, could be triggered if Poland continued down the path they were taking.

With opposition parties boycotting what they call a rigged election, Reuters reports the streets of Caracas were deserted on Sunday as a minority of Venezuelans trickled to the polls to elect a constitutional super-body that unpopular leftist President Maduro vowed would begin a new era of combat in the crisis-stricken nation. That is good news as, following the death of two people yesterday, shortly after a large group of motorbikes sped through the city, and explosion hit, reportedly injuring a number of police officers.

A number of police officers were injured in Venezuela's capital Caracas after an explosion during an anti-government protest decrying a vote for a constituent assembly on Sunday, according to a Reuters witness.

Further details were not immediately available.
The moment of the explosion...
Social media is awash with clips of injured (it is uncertain if this is from the explosion)...
For now, the fire from the explosion continues...

As a reminder, Reuters reports, Maduro, widely disliked for overseeing an economic collapse during four years in office, has pressed ahead with the vote to create the all-powerful assembly despite the threat of further U.S. sanctions and months of opposition protests in which more than 115 people have been killed. Opposition parties are boycotting what they call a rigged election. Their sympathizers planned protests on highways across the South American country and scuffles were already reported in the provinces - raising the prospect of violent clashes with tens of thousands of troops deployed to safeguard the vote.
Authorities confirmed there were two deaths on Saturday, including the killing of a candidate to the assembly during a robbery, while the opposition put the total death toll in Saturday's protests at five.
Critics say the assembly will allow Maduro to dissolve the opposition-run Congress, delay future elections and rewrite electoral rules to prevent the socialists from being voted out of power in the once-prosperous OPEC nation.
The opposition has vowed to redouble its resistance and U.S. President Donald Trump has promised broader economic sanctions against Venezuela after the vote, suggesting the oil-rich nation's crisis is set to escalate.

"Even if they win today, this won't last long," said opposition supporter Berta Hernandez, a 60-year-old doctor, in a wealthy Caracas district. "I'll continue on the streets because, not long from now, this will come to an end."

Finland has reportedly seen a flood of conversions from Islam to Christianity, with hundreds of asylum seekers from the Middle East turning to the Christian faith, officials in the Evangelical Lutheran community said.
Evangelical Lutheran parishes have begun establishing confirmation classes for Muslim immigrants who want to become Christians. Exact figures on the number of recent Muslim converts aren't available since such records aren't kept – but conservative estimates on the number suggest several hundred in recent years within the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church, according to the Finnish news source Yle Uutiset.

Conversion from Islam is a divisive move however, one not readily accepted by many traditional Muslim families; some say that after conversion they are seen as 'infidels' in 'exile' by family in their home countries.
'I haven't been in contact with my family in Afghanistan for a very long time. If they find out I've converted, it would mean trouble for me,' said another convert, Golamir Hossaini.
Many of the Imatra confirmation students reportedly cited a disillusionment with the Islamic faith, and say they will probably never return to Afghanistan.

Less than a month after the US flew two B-1B bombers over the Korean Peninsula to show off "US attack capabilities", the US Air Force did it again on Sunday, when it the flew two supersonic B-1B bombers over the Korean peninsula in "a show of force" on Sunday after Pyongyang's Friday test of an ICBM that can reach the continental US. The two B-1Bs flew alongside two Japanese F-2 jet fighters within Japanese airspace before conducting an exercise over South Korea with four South Korean F-15 fighters in response to the latest North Korean missile test, as well as the previous July 4 launch of the "Hwansong-14" rocket, the USAF. 
"In a demonstration of ironclad U.S. commitment to our allies, two U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancers assigned to the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, deployed from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, fly a 10-hour mission from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, into Japanese airspace and over the Korean Peninsula" the statement by Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs said.
"North Korea remains the most urgent threat to regional stability," Pacific Air Forces commander General Terrence J. O'Shaughnessy said in the statement
"If called upon, we are ready to respond with rapid, lethal, and overwhelming force at a time and place of our choosing".