American Soldier Sentenced to Penal Colony in Russia

American Soldier Sentenced to Penal Colony in Russia

American Soldier Sentenced to Penal Colony in Russia

A Russian court has sentenced American soldier Gordon Black to three years and nine months in a penal colony for theft and making threats, as reported by state news media.

Black, 34, was detained on May 2 in Vladivostok, in Russia’s far east. He had traveled to see Alexandra Vashchuk, whom he believed to be his girlfriend. He was accused of assaulting her and stealing 10,000 rubles (approximately £90), according to state news agency TASS.

Prosecutors alleged that Black “forcefully grabbed the girl by the neck, which she perceived as a real threat to her life,” before stealing money from her wallet. While Black denied threatening Vashchuk, he admitted to partially stealing the money and plans to appeal the ruling.

Black's sentencing adds another layer of complexity to the already strained US-Russia relations, exacerbated by the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. He is one of several Americans currently held in Russia, including former Marine Paul Whelan and The Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, both of whom the US State Department has labeled as “wrongfully detained.”

Black, who has a wife and child in Texas, had met Vashchuk in South Korea while stationed at an American military base and traveled to Russia without authorization. His mother and wife have described Black’s relationship with Vashchuk as tumultuous. His mother told Reuters that despite their frequent fights, Black followed Vashchuk to Russia.

Black and his wife initially had a good relationship after meeting in a bar in 2014, but it began to deteriorate in 2018, leading him to file for divorce after moving to South Korea. In January 2022, his wife discovered his relationship with Vashchuk through Facebook, where Vashchuk referred to Black as “her husband.”

During the trial at the Pervomaisky District Court in Vladivostok, Russian state news agencies Tass and RIA Novosti reported that the judge also ordered Black to pay 10,000 rubles in damages. Prosecutors had initially sought a sentence of four years and eight months.

Other Americans detained in Russia include Travis Leake, a musician arrested on drug-related charges; Marc Fogel, a teacher sentenced to 14 years for drug charges; and dual nationals Alsu Kurmasheva and Ksenia Khavana.

The US State Department has strongly advised American citizens against traveling to Russia. Under Pentagon policy, service members must obtain clearance for international travel from a security manager or commander. The US Army stated that Black had not sought or received authorization for his trip. Given the hostilities in Ukraine and threats to the US and its military, it is highly unlikely that such approval would have been granted.

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