US solider detained in Russia will be held until at least July

by Vern Evans

Russian officials on Tuesday said an American soldier being held in Vladivostok will remain in jail for at least two more months while authorities review the theft charges against him.

Staff Sgt. Gordon Black, who has served in the Army since 2008, was arrested by Russian police on May 2 after traveling from his South Korean base to the Russian city, which sits near the country’s border with North Korea.

In a statement released Tuesday, Russian court officials said that Black will remain in pre-trial confinement until July 2 as law enforcement officials further investigate the case.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said American officials are working to provide him consular assistance. He did not say whether U.S. officials view the arrest as politically motivated.

Black, who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan during his 16-year military career, 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.

“Instead of returning to the continental United States, Black flew from Incheon, Republic of Korea through China to Vladivostok, Russia, for personal reasons,” Army spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said in a statement. “Black did not request official clearance and the Defense Department did not authorize his travel to China and Russia.”

Smith said officials have not seen any indication that Black intended to remain in Russia and defect from the United States after his leave period ended.

According to U.S. officials interviewed by the Associated Press, Black flew to Russia to see his girlfriend. The Russian woman had lived in South Korea, and she and Black had previously been involved in a domestic dispute which led to his decision to seek her out in Russia.

Smith said Black has been charged with “theft of personal property” but said no additional information has been released on the charges.

Miller reiterated State Department warnings against U.S. citizens visiting Russia, where a number of American citizens are currently being jailed on charges U.S. leaders insist are false and baseless.

That list includes former Marine Paul Whelan, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, and musician Travis Leake.

“U.S. citizens should not travel to Russia for any reason,” he said. “It’s dangerous, you risk being detained, you risk other threats to your health and well-being. For any American citizen anywhere in the world, whether they are here in the United States or in some other country, if you are considering going to Russia, don’t do it.”

Defense Department officials and representatives from the U.S. embassy in Moscow said they have been in touch with Black’s family about his detention.

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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