May 24, 2024

WASHINGTON (AP) — An American soldier visiting a girlfriend in Russia’s port city of Vladivostok was arrested on charges of stealing from her and remains in custody, according to several U.S. officials.

U.S. officials said Monday the soldier, Staff Sgt. Gordon Black, 34, was stationed in South Korea and was in the process of returning home to Fort Cavazos in Texas. Instead, officials said that Black, who is married, traveled to Russia to see a longtime girlfriend. His arrest only further complicates U.S. relations with Russia, which have grown increasingly tense as the war in Ukraine drags on.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel details.

Cynthia Smith, Army spokeswoman, confirmed that a soldier was detained on Thursday in Vladivostok, a major military and commercial Pacific port, on charges of criminal misconduct. She said Russia notified the U.S. and the Army told the soldier’s family.

“The U.S. Department of State is providing appropriate consular support to the soldier in Russia,” Smith said.

According to 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.

Officials also said that Black, an infantry soldier, did not tell his unit that he was going to Russia, and did not receive any authorization to go there. They said he was essentially on leave, as he left Korea to redeploy back home to Fort Cavazos.

It’s unclear, however, if U.S. service members are specifically prohibited from traveling to Russia, although the State Department strongly advises U.S. citizens not to go.

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.

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 soldier’s arrest in Russia was first reported by NBC News.

___ Associated Press reporters Matthew Lee, Aamer Madhani and Eric Tucker contributed to this report.


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