Russia sentences US soldier Gordon Black to nearly four years in penal colony

A Russian court sent an American soldier to three years and nine months in a penal colony for stealing and threatening murder, state news media reported.

Gordon Black, 34, was detained in Vladivostok in Russia’s far east on 2 May. He was there to see Alexandra Vashchuk, a woman he believed to be his girlfriend, and was arrested after being accused of assaulting her and stealing 10,000 rubles (£90) from her, according to state news agency TASS.

He “forcefully grabbed the girl by the neck, which she perceived as a real threat to her life”, and then stole money from her wallet, the prosecutor said.

Black denied making a threat, but admitted partial guilt for stealing the money. He intends to appeal the ruling.

Black’s sentencing further complicates US relations with Russia, which have grown increasingly tense as the fighting in Ukraine continues.

The soldier is one of the several Americans held in Russia, including former Marine Paul Whelan and The Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, both of whom the US State Department has declared as “wrongfully detained”.

US Army Staff Sergeant Gordon Black is escorted to a courtroom in Vladivostok, Russia, on 6 June 2024 (AP)
US Army Staff Sergeant Gordon Black is escorted to a courtroom in Vladivostok, Russia, on 6 June 2024 (AP)

Black, who has a wife and child in Texas, had met Ms Vashchuk in South Korea, where he was stationed on an American military base, and travelled to see her in Russia without authorisation.

His mother and wife previously described Black’s relationship with Ms Vashchuk as tempestuous. His mother told Reuters last month that he followed Ms Vashchuk to Russia even though they “fought like cats and dogs”.

Black and his wife got along well after meeting at a bar in 2014 but their relationship began to deteriorate in 2018 and he filed for divorce after moving to South Korea, according to the Reuters report.

His wife discovered his Russian girlfriend in January 2022 through Facebook where the girlfriend referred to Black as “her husband”.

Russian state news agencies Tass and RIA Novosti reported from the courtroom in the Pervomaisky District Court in Vladivostok that the judge also ordered Black to pay 10,000 rubles in damages. Prosecutors had asked for Black to be sentenced to four years and eight months in prison.

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 US State Department strongly advises American citizens not to go to Russia.

Under Pentagon policy, service members must get clearance for any international travel from a security manager or commander.

The US Army said last month that Black hadn’t sought clearance for the international travel and it wasn’t authorized by the Defense Department. Given the hostilities in Ukraine and threats to the U.S. and its military, it is extremely unlikely he would have been granted approval.

Additional inputs from agencies