US soldier serving nearly four years in prison after being found guilty of theft in Russia

A visiting American soldier was found guilty of stealing and uttering threats of murder by a court in Vladivostok, far east of Russia, on Wednesday. The soldier was also given a sentence of three years and nine months in jail.

According to Russian and American authorities, Staff Sgt. Gordon Black, 34, was detained last month after accusing his fiancée of stealing from him when he took a plane to the port city in the Pacific.

According to reports from Russia’s official news agencies Tass and RIA Novosti, Black was also ordered to pay 10,000 rubles ($115) in damages by the judge of the Pervomaisky District Court in Vladivostok. A sentence of four years and eight months in jail was requested by the prosecution.

As the battle in Ukraine rages on, Black’s case comes amid tensions over Russia’s arrests of American journalists and other citizens.

A handful of Americans, including Wall Street Journal writer Evan Gershkovich and corporate security officer Paul Whelan, are in custody in Russia. Both individuals have been declared unlawfully held by the US government, which has been attempting to negotiate their release.

Additional people in custody include artist Travis Leake, who has lived in Russia for many years and was jailed last year on drug-related accusations; Marc Fogel, a Moscow teacher who was given a 14-year prison sentence for similar offenses; and dual nationals Alsu Kurmasheva and Ksenia Khavana.

American nationals are strongly advised by the U.S. State Department not to travel to Russia.

Black had been stationed at Camp Humphreys with the Eighth Army in South Korea, but he was on leave and on his way back to his home post at Fort Cavazos, Texas.

Black checked out to return home, but “instead of returning to the continental United States, Black flew from Incheon, Republic of Korea, through China to Vladivostok, Russia, for personal reasons,” according to Army spokeswoman Cynthia Smith.

According to Pentagon rules, military personnel need to obtain authorization from a security manager or commander before departing the country.

Last month, the U.S. Army declared that Black had not requested this kind of travel approval and that the Defense Department had not approved it. It is highly doubtful that he would have been approved in light of the fighting in Ukraine and the dangers facing the United States and its armed forces.

Earlier this month, Alexandra Vashchuk, Black’s girlfriend, told reporters that Black “became aggressive and attacked” her after what she described as a “simple domestic dispute.”

Vashchuk claimed, “He then took money out of my wallet, and I didn’t give him permission to do it.”

She called Black “violent and unable to control himself” and said she thought the sentence was “quite humane” in an interview with the Russian news agency on Wednesday.

According to American officials, Black—who is married—met Vashchuk in South Korea.

She had lived in South Korea, according to U.S. officials, and she and Black got into a domestic argument or brawl last fall. She then departed from South Korea. It’s unclear whether South Korean authorities were involved in any way, if at all, or if she was compelled to leave.


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