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US soldier arrested in Russia and charged with theft, US officials say

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US soldier arrested in Russia and charged with theft, US officials say

FILE – A view of the bridge connecting Russky Island and Vladivostok, in far eastern Russia, August 26, 2023. AP Photo/Alexander Khitrov

WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. soldier visiting a girlfriend in the Russian port city of Vladivostok has been arrested on theft charges and remains in custody, according to several U.S. officials.

U.S. officials said Monday that the soldier, Staff Sgt. Gordon Black, 34, was stationed in South Korea and was about to return home to Fort Cavazos in Texas. Instead, officials said Black, who is married, traveled to Russia to see a longtime girlfriend. His arrest only further complicates relations between the United States and Russia, which have become increasingly strained as the war in Ukraine drags on.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel details.

Cynthia Smith, an Army spokeswoman, confirmed that a soldier was arrested Thursday in Vladivostok, a major military and commercial port in the Pacific, for criminal misconduct. She said Russia informed the United States and the military informed the soldier’s family.

“The U.S. State Department is providing appropriate consular support to soldiers in Russia,” Smith said.

Officials said the Russian woman had lived in South Korea, and last fall she and Black had some sort of domestic argument or altercation. After that, she left South Korea. It is not clear whether she was forced to leave or what role, if any, Korean authorities played in the matter.

Officials also said Black, an infantryman, did not tell his unit he was going to Russia and did not receive any authorization to go there. They said he was essentially on leave, having left Korea to redeploy home to Fort Cavazos.

It is unclear, however, whether U.S. military personnel are specifically prohibited from traveling to Russia, although the State Department strongly advises U.S. citizens against traveling there.

The arrest comes less than a year after U.S. soldier Travis King sprinted toward North Korea across the heavily fortified border between the two Koreas. North Korea later announced it would expel King, who was returned to the United States. He was eventually charged with desertion.

Russia is known to hold a number of Americans in its prisons, including corporate security executive Paul Whelan and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. The U.S. government designated both men as wrongfully detained and attempted to negotiate their release.

Other detainees include Travis Leake, a musician who had lived in Russia for years and was arrested last year on drug charges; Marc Fogel, teacher in Moscow, sentenced to 14 years in prison, also for drug trafficking; and double nationals Alsou Kurmasheva and Ksenia Khavana.

The soldier’s arrest in Russia was first reported by NBC News.

Associated Press journalists Matthew Lee, Aamer Madhani and Eric Tucker contributed to this report.

Boston

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