Mother of soldier being held in Russia believes he was lured there

by Vern Evans

The mother of a U.S. soldier being held in Russia on theft charges says she believes her son was lured by intelligence officials trying to capture a politically valuable prisoner.

White House officials so far have not characterized the nature of the arrest of Staff Sgt. Gordon Black, who has been in jail in Russia since May 2 after he was accused of theft after traveling to Vladivostok without informing his military chain of command.

Earlier this week, Defense Department deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said Army officials are investigating whether Russian intelligence services specifically targeted Black ahead of his arrest, but have not yet made any determination.

But in an interview with NBC News on Thursday, Melody Jones — Black’s mother — said she believes her son was manipulated by a Russian woman as part of a scheme to get him to travel to her home country. Black was arrested upon landing in Vladivostok and will remain in jail at least until early July, Russian officials said.

Jones told the news network that Black informed her about his plans to travel to Russia to see his girlfriend, whom he had met while stationed in South Korea.

“I was worried about him going, because the government there has been grabbing Americans,” she told NBC News. “I was more worried about him going to Russia than I was when he was in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Black, 34, has served in the Army since 2008, including deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

He was most recently assigned to Eighth Army with U.S. Forces Korea at Camp Humphreys in South Korea. Army officials said he processed out of that role on April 10 and was on Permanent Change of Station leave en route to Fort Cavazos, Texas, at the time of his arrest in Russia.

Instead of heading directly back to the United States after his time in South Korea ended, Black flew to China and then Russia, military officials said. The soldier did not request or receive clearance to visit either country.

The State Department has issued warnings for all U.S. citizens against traveling to Russia because of tensions between the two countries. Both Defense and State Department officials have said they are working to make sure Black has legal assistance and other counselor services while in confinement in Russia.

The list of American citizens currently being held in Russia on what the White House insists are false charges includes former Marine Paul Whelan, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, and musician Travis Leake.

Jones told NBC News that Black has a 6-year-old daughter and is currently going through a divorce.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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