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.
"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 Vesti.ru 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.