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Russian court sentences US soldier to nearly 4 years in prisonExBulletin

Russian court sentences US soldier to nearly 4 years in prisonExBulletin
Russian court sentences US soldier to nearly 4 years in prisonExBulletin


U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Gordon Black sits in a glass cage in a courtroom in Vladivostok, Russia, on Wednesday. AP/AP .

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MOSCOW A Russian court sentenced an American soldier to nearly four years in prison for robbery and threatening to murder, the latest in a series of American citizens arrested in Russia amid simmering tensions over Ukraine and other issues .

Staff Sgt. Gordon Black, 34, was stationed in South Korea and was preparing to return to the United States on leave when he made the decision that U.S. Army officials say broke the rules .

Without informing his superiors, Black traveled to Vladivostok, a city in the Russian Far East, via China, to see his Russian girlfriend with whom he had begun a relationship during his overseas assignment. .

The judge found Black guilty on all counts and sentenced him to three years and nine months in prison. Prosecutors had asked for four years and eight months. Black had pleaded guilty to taking money but said he had no intent to harm and pleaded not guilty to the charge of threatening to murder his girlfriend, a Russian national named Alexandra Vashchuk .

The fate of the American now risks being another irritant in the ongoing diplomatic negotiations with Moscow.

Black and Vashchuk reportedly had a volatile relationship

Last month, Vashchuk filed a police report accusing Black of stealing 10,000 rubles, or just over a hundred dollars, from her purse and attempting to strangle her after an argument between the couple.

In court, Black pleaded guilty to taking the money, saying he used it to check into a hotel but later returned the sum.

He also denied any intention to kill Vashchuk, saying he only temporarily subdued her after she attacked him in a drunken rage.

Before the ruling, Vashchuk vacillated between wanting to see Black punished and calling for leniency from the court.

“I don’t want to see him get a long sentence,” she said in an interview outside the courthouse. “He's sick. He needs psychological help.”

According to local media, Vashchuk did not attend the verdict.

Social media posts from 2022 to 2023 on Vashchuk's account show her and Black discussing a series of issues while they both lived in Seoul. The conversations were first reported by the U.S. government-sponsored Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty news service.

In one exchange, Vashchuk asks Black what he thinks about U.S.-Russia tensions between Russia and the United States under President Biden.

“The relationship is definitely not good now,” Black responds.

The verdict complicates ongoing diplomatic negotiations

Black's conviction represents another challenge for U.S. authorities who are already working to secure the release of several Americans held in Russian prisons on what the White House considers to be trumped-up charges.

Among them is Wall Street Journal journalist Evan Gershkovich, whom Russian authorities accuse of spying for the CIA. His closed-door trial will begin next week in Yekaterinburg.

In the run-up to Gershkovich's trial, a senior Russian diplomat suggested the White House was blocking a prison swap offer with the Kremlin.

“The ball is in the court of the United States, we are waiting for them to respond to the ideas presented to them,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in comments to the official TASS news agency.

“I understand that, perhaps, something in these ideas does not suit the Americans,” Ryabkov added. “(But) this is their problem.”

The White House says it has made substantial offers aimed at securing the release of Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, a former Marine sentenced to 16 years in prison for espionage in 2018.

In recent years, the Biden administration also struck deals with Moscow to secure the release of WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner and former Marine Trevor Reed from Russian prisons.

Critics of the exchanges say the agreements encouraged further hostage-taking of Americans.

Meanwhile, the State Department is once again warning Americans to stay away from Russia, due to the increased risk of arbitrary detention by security agencies.




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