US soldier arrested in Russia to be held for two months after traveling to meet a woman

Gordon Black, 34, was arrested under the ‘theft‘ article of Russia’s criminal code, and will be held until at least 2 July

Martha McHardy
Tuesday 07 May 2024 14:24 BST
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A Russian court confirmed on Tuesday that a US solider would be held in custody for at least two months after their arrest on theft charges.

Gordon Black, 34, was arrested under the “theft” article of Russia’s criminal code, court spokesperson Elena Oleneva said in a statement, and will be held until at least 2 July.

The American staff sergeant was detained in Russia on Thursday while travelling from where he was stationed in South Korea to the Russian port city of Vladivostok. He was on his way home to Texas and stopped in Russia to meet a woman he was romantically involved with, officials said.

He was charged with “secretly stealing property” of a person referred to as “citizen T”, Pervomaisky District Court in Vladivostok said, after a 32-year-old woman, whom he had met in South Korea where she was working at the time, filed a complaint against him, according to Russia’s interior ministry.

The two began a relationship, and after the woman returned to Vladivostok the man came to visit her, arriving on April 10, the statement said, saying the couple later had an argument.

After the man left, the woman discovered an undisclosed sum of money was missing and filed a police report. The statement said the man had been arrested at a local hotel and purchased airline tickets, intending to flee to his home country. The Russian daily newspaper Izvestia, quoting an unnamed source, said the soldier had stolen 200,000 roubles ($2,196) from her.

Sgt Black is being held in pre-trial detention, the court said in a separate statement, referring only to “US citizen B.”

His detention was to prevent him from evading charges, the court added.

“The court came to the conclusion that US citizen B, under the weight of the charges, in order to avoid responsibility, could hide from the preliminary investigation authorities and the court, thereby preventing the proceedings in the case,” the statement said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry’s office in Vladivostok has claimed his arrest has nothing to do with politics, according to state news agency TASS.

“This case has no relation to politics or espionage. As far as we understand, a household crime [is suspected] in this case. That is why the Russian Foreign Ministry’s mission in Vladivostok is not following the case of the US citizen closely,” the mission said.

The White House and the US embassy in Russia have confirmed that they are aware of Sgt Black’s arrest. “We are aware of reports of US citizens being arrested inside of Russia... Consular officers from the embassy always seek to aid citizens with appropriate assistance, but due to privacy concerns we aren’t able to comment further,” the embassy said in a statement.

White House National Security communications advisor, John Kirby, also told Politico he could not comment further. Sgt Black has not been named by the US Army.

Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul, said on Monday that he was “deeply concerned” by the news, adding that Sgt Black’s arrest is a “warning to all Americans” that it is “not safe to travel to Russia”.

Current travel guidance from the US State Department advises against all travel to Russia.

Sgt Black’s arrest comes after another US citizen was arrested and detained in Russia last week. The man, named as “Russell William”, was sentenced to 10 days in jail for “petty hooliganism”, according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti on its Telegram channel.

Citing a report from Ren TV, RIA said the American “got drunk, climbed through the window into a children’s library and fell asleep there”.

Several Americans are currently being held in Russian prisons, including Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was jailed last March, and former marine Paul Whelan, who was arrested in 2018. The US government has said both are wrongfully detained.

In late April, Mr Gershkovich was told he would remain in a Russian jail until at least the end of June. He is accused of espionage. Meanwhile, LA woman Ksenia Karelin was arrested on charges of treason in February while visiting family in Russia, after allegedly sending $51.80 to a Ukrainian charity.

WNBA player Brittney Griner was also detained by Russia in early 2022 on drug-related charges. She was released as part of a prisoner swap in December 2022 and has written a book, Coming Home, about her harrowing experiences.

The arrest of US citizens in Russia has reached Cold War levels, according to The Associated Press.

Tensions have remained high between the US and Russia following the country’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

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