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Russian court sentences US soldier to nearly four years

News Agencies | Updated on: 19 June 2024, 17:34 IST
US soldier sentenced to nearly four years in Russia's penal colony

Vladivostok [Russia]: A Russian court has imposed a prison sentence on United States staff sergeant Gordon Black, amidst ongoing negotiations between Moscow and Washington over a potential prisoner swap deal, according to Russian State media.

On Wednesday, the Pervomaisky District Court of Vladivostok sentenced Black to three years and nine months in a penal colony. According to state-run TASS and Sputnik, Black was convicted of stealing USD 113 from his girlfriend and threatening her life.

"The ball is in the court of the United States, we are waiting for them to respond to the ideas that were presented to them," stated Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov to TASS, underscoring Russia's stance on the negotiations.

The sentencing of Black is the latest in a series of cases involving US citizens detained in Russia, exacerbating already strained relations following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

Among those detained include corporate security executive Paul Whelan, musician Travis Leake on drug-related charges, teacher Marc Fogel sentenced to 14 years for similar charges, and dual national Ksenia Khavana. Meanwhile, another case drew attention when Alsu Kurmasheva, a Radio Free Europe journalist with dual citizenship, had her pre-trial detention extended despite an appeal.

She faces charges related to spreading "false information" about the military, as reported by Al Jazeera. Further complicating matters, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich is set to undergo a closed-door trial on espionage charges, which he denies.

In response to mounting international pressure and negotiations, Russian President Vladimir Putin had earlier hinted at discussions for a potential prisoner swap involving Gershkovich. However, specific details regarding progress have not been disclosed by the Kremlin. "The Americans are well aware of the proposals made. If there are issues with the ideas, that's their problem," emphasised Ryabkov.

The case of Gordon Black, aged 34, unfolded dramatically when he was arrested last month during a visit to Vladivostok, where he was seeing his Russian girlfriend Alexandra Vashuk.

Vashuk accused Black of stealing 10,000 roubles and threatening her life. Black's defence has maintained his partial guilt in the theft but denies the charges of making death threats. In a courtroom scene portrayed by tension, Black, surrounded by his legal team, pleaded his case from within a glass enclosure.

His family, including his wife and the mother of his child in Texas, has described the relationship with Vashuk as tumultuous.

The narrative of their relationship, originating from a meeting on a dating app in South Korea in October 2022, saw Black invited to Vladivostok by Vashuk, diverging from his planned return to Fort Cavazos in Texas after service in South Korea.

Critically, the Pentagon disclosed that Black had violated army regulations by travelling to Russia and China without authorisation, complicating his legal standing in the ongoing proceedings, Al Jazeera reported.


First published: 19 June 2024, 17:34 IST