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Russian court sentences American soldier to almost four years for theft

Russian court sentences American soldier to almost four years for theft

Russian court sentences American soldier to almost four years for theft

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MOSCOW (AP) — A court in the Russian city of Vladivostok on Wednesday sentenced an American soldier arrested earlier this year to three years and nine months in prison on charges of robbery and threatening to kill, Russian news reports said.

Staff Sgt. Gordon Black, 34, flew to Vladivostok, a Pacific port city, to see his girlfriend and was arrested after she accused him of stealing from her, U.S. officials and Russian authorities said.

Russian state news agencies Tass and RIA Novosti reported from the courtroom of the Pervomaisky District Court in Vladivostok that the judge had also ordered Black to pay 10,000 rubles ($115) in damages. Prosecutors had sentenced Black to four years and eight months in prison.

Black’s conviction further complicates U.S. relations with Russia, which have grown increasingly tense as fighting in Ukraine continues.

Russia is holding a number of Americans in its prisons, including corporate security director Paul Whelan and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. The US government has classified both men as unlawfully detained and has attempted to negotiate their release.

Others arrested include Travis Leake, a longtime Russia-based musician who was arrested last year on drug-related charges; Marc Fogel, a teacher in Moscow who was sentenced to 14 years in prison, also for drug abuse; and dual nationals Alsu Kurmasheva and Ksenia Khavana.

The U.S. Department of State strongly discourages American citizens from going to Russia.

Pentagon policy requires military personnel to obtain clearance from a security manager or commander before any international travel.

The US military said last month that Black had not requested permission for the international travel and was not authorized by the Defense Department. Given the hostilities in Ukraine and the threats against the US and the military, it is extremely unlikely that he would have received approval.

Black was on leave and returning to his home base at Fort Cavazos, Texas, from South Korea, where he was stationed with the Eighth Army at Camp Humphreys.

Cynthia Smith, an Army spokesperson, said Black had signed up for his move home and that “instead of returning to the continental United States, Black, for personal reasons, moved from Incheon, Republic of Korea, through China to Vladivostok, Russia flew.”

Black’s girlfriend, Alexandra Vashchuk, told reporters earlier this month that “it was a simple domestic dispute” in which Black “became aggressive and attacked her.” “He then stole money from my wallet and I did not give him permission to do so,” Vashchuk said.

U.S. officials have said the married Black met his girlfriend in South Korea.

According to U.S. officials, the Russian woman had been living in South Korea, and last fall she and Black became involved in some sort of domestic dispute or altercation. Then she left South Korea. It is not clear whether she was forced to leave and what role South Korean authorities played in the case.