US Army Sergeant Detained in Russia

( – An American soldier is being held in a Russian jail. Staff Sergeant Gordon Black was on an unauthorized trip to Russia for personal reasons when he was arrested. He’s now being held on theft charges.

SSgt Black, a US Army infantry NCO, recently finished a posting at Eighth Army, US Forces Korea, and was due to report to his new duty station at Fort Cavazos, Texas (formerly Fort Hood). However, instead of traveling directly, he decided to go via Vladivostok, Russia, to visit Aleksandra Vashchuk, a Russian woman he was in a relationship with.

US military personnel traveling to Russia need official clearance for the trip, and a protective security briefing before they go; Black didn’t request clearance and arranged his own travel, ignoring military regulations and two-year-old State Department advice that US citizens shouldn’t travel to the country.

On May 2, Black was arrested in Vladivostok on charges of stealing personal property. Allegedly, he and Vashchuk got into a drunken argument, in which Black beat her and stole 200,000 roubles (about $2,200). However, this has all the hallmarks of an attempted compromise operation. Vashchuk’s social media channels are full of images and videos of her in South Korea with Black. In one video she repeats Russian propaganda about her country’s invasion of Ukraine being necessary to defend itself against NATO. Black replies “I think that NATO is pretty aggressive, honestly. I understand Russia’s position… They want to defend their country.”

In intelligence terms, he’d taken the hook — committed actions that would compromise him and open him up to blackmail. It’s possible that, while he was in Russia, an intelligence agency tried to recruit him as an agent.

Whatever the real reason for Black’s arrest, Russia can now use him as a bargaining chip to secure concessions from the US government. The State Department is now providing consular support and will likely try to negotiate his release — but, if the allegations prove true, his future in the US Army is almost certain to be short and bleak.

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