Arrested US soldier to be held for two months in Russia on theft charges

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Army soldier arrested in Russia last week was being held in a pretrial detention facility, the Army said Tuesday. Russian reports said he would be held for two months pending an investigation.

Staff Sgt. Gordon Black flew to Vladivostok, a Pacific port city, to see his girlfriend and was arrested after she accused him of stealing from her, according to U.S. officials and Russian police.

The Army confirmed Tuesday that he had not sought clearance for the international travel and it was not authorized by the Defense Department. Under Pentagon policy, service members must get clearance for any international travel from a security manager or commander and that was not done.

The State Department strongly advises U.S. citizens not to go to Russia, and given the war in Ukraine and ongoing threats to the U.S. and its military, it is extremely unlikely he would have been granted approval.

The regional branch of the Russian Interior Ministry said in a statement Tuesday that Black and his girlfriend had a conflict and she reported him to the police, claiming that she found cash missing after he stayed with her.

The statement said Black was arrested at a hotel in Vladivostok.

Russian media reports quoted Elena Oleneva, a spokesperson for Vladivostok courts, as saying the city’s Pervomaisky District Court on Friday ordered Grant held in custody until July 2. He faces up to five years in prison if convicted.

The U.S. Army is also conducting an administrative investigation into what happened.

Black was on leave and in the process of returning to his home base at Fort Cavazos in Texas from South Korea, where he had been stationed at Camp Humphreys with the Eighth Army. The U.S. officials said Black, who is married, met his girlfriend in South Korea. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel details.

“Official and leave travel is currently restricted pursuant to the DoD Foreign Clearance Guide.” said Cynthia Smith, an Army spokeswoman, adding that “There is no evidence Black intended to remain in Russia” after his leave time ended.

Smith said Black enlisted in the Army in 2008, and deployed to Iraq from October 2009 through September 2010, and to Afghanistan from June 2013 until March 2014. He is an infantry soldier.

According to Smith, Black signed out for his move back home and, “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 the U.S. officials, the Russian woman had lived in South Korea, and last fall she and Black got into some type of domestic dispute or altercation. After that, she left South Korea. It isn’t clear if she was forced to leave or what, if any, role Korean authorities had in the matter.

Smith said that an official from the Russian Interior Ministry informed the U.S. Embassy in Moscow on Friday that Black was arrested on Thursday in Vladivostok, “for theft of personal property.” The embassy and Eighth Army notified Black’s family of his arrest.

Russia is known to be holding a number of Americans in its jails, including corporate security executive Paul Whelan and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. The U.S. government has designated both as wrongfully detained and has been trying to negotiate for 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 arrest comes less than a year after American soldier Travis King sprinted into North Korea across the heavily fortified border between the Koreas. North Korea later announced that it would expel King, who was returned to the U.S. He was eventually charged with desertion.

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