Russian court sentences US soldier to nearly 4 years in prison on theft charges

A court in Russia’s far eastern city of Vladivostok on Wednesday sentenced a US soldier arrested earlier this year to three years and nine months in prison on charges of stealing and threats of murder, Russian news reports said.

According to US officials and Russian authorities, Staff Sergeant Gordon Black, 34, flew to the Pacific port city of Vladivostok to see his girlfriend and was arrested after she accused him of stealing from her.

Russian state news agencies Tass and RIA Novosti reported from the courtroom in the Pervomaisky District Court in Vladivostok that the judge also ordered Black to pay 10,000 rubles (€112) in damages.

Prosecutors had asked for Black to be sentenced to four years and eight months in prison.

Black’s sentencing further complicates US relations with Russia, which have grown increasingly tense as the fighting in Ukraine continues.

Do not travel to Russia, State Department warns US citizens

Russia is holding a number of Americans in its jails, including corporate security executive Paul Whelan and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. The US government has designated both men as wrongfully detained and has been trying to negotiate their release.

Others detained include Travis Leake, a musician who had been living in Russia for years and was arrested last year on drug-related charges; Marc Fogel, a teacher in Moscow who was sentenced to 14 years in prison, also on drug charges; and dual nationals Alsu Kurmasheva and Ksenia Khavana.

The US State Department strongly advises American citizens not to go to Russia.

Under Pentagon policy, service members must get clearance from a security manager or commander for any international travel.

The US Army said last month that Black hadn’t sought clearance for his Russian trip and that it wasn’t authorised by the Department of Defence. Given the hostilities in Ukraine and threats to the US and its military, it is extremely unlikely he would have been granted approval.

Gordon Black talks with his lawyer in court in Vladivostok.

Black was on leave and in the process of returning to his home base at Fort Cavazos, Texas, from South Korea, where he had been stationed at Camp Humphreys with the Eighth Army.

US officials have said that Black, who is married, met his girlfriend in South Korea and that they got into some type of domestic dispute or altercation last autumn. After that, she left South Korea. It is not clear if she was forced to leave or what, if any, role South Korean authorities had in the matter.

Army spokesperson Cynthia Smith said Black had signed out for his move back home.

“Instead of returning to the continental United States, Black flew from Incheon, Republic of Korea, through China to Vladivostok, Russia, for personal reasons,” she explained.

Black’s girlfriend, Alexandra Vashchuk, told reporters earlier this month that “it was a simple domestic dispute,” during which Black “became aggressive and attacked” her.

“He then stole money from my wallet and I didn’t give him permission to do it,” she said.

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