American Soldier Sentenced to Nearly Four Years in Russian Penal Colony

Trent Barr
Trent Barr
Trent has years of experience and training in open source intelligence gathering and journalism. He specializes in Latin American, German, and Vatican affairs, with a broader interest in European politics. Trent serves as the Latin America Desk Chief for Atlas News.

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A United States Army staff sergeant, Gordon Black, has been sentenced to three years and nine months in a Russian penal colony for stealing 10,000 rubles ($113) from his Russian lover’s purse and threatening her life.

An International Romance

The staff sergeant was originally arrested in early May in Vladivostok, Primorsky Krai, located near the Russian-Chinese border. Black had originally met his lover, Alexandra Vashchuk, while deployed in South Korea. After Black was ordered to return to Fort Cavazos, Texas, he instead flew to China and then Russia to reunite with Vashchuk, a trip that the Pentagon stated violated official military guidelines.

Black was arrested following an argument with Vashchuk; the staff sergeant stole the money and choked her. After the argument, Vashchuk filed a police report regarding the incident, ultimately leading to Black’s arrest. Black denied intending to kill his lover, stating that he was acting in self-defense after Vashchuk, who had consumed half a bottle of vodka, attacked him. Black further claimed he only took the money in order to check into a hotel and later paid Vashchuk $500 through an acquaintance prior to his arrest. Vashchuk denied ever receiving the money before asserting that Black was in need of psychiatric help.

“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.”

Prosecutors painted a different picture, alleging that Black had entered Vashchuk’s apartment and strangled her before taking the money. Due to the severity of the crimes, prosecutors requested a full four years in prison for Black, while the defense asked that Black be acquitted on all charges.

The Russian News Agency (TASS), a Russian state-owned news outlet, previously quoted Vashchuk, claiming that Black had become physically violent with her on multiple other occasions. This claim may have some truth to it, as Black’s mother told Reuters that the two had “fought like cats and dogs” throughout their relationship.

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

Another American Detained in Russia

Black’s conviction comes amid a number of arrests of Americans, including the arrest and announced trial of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on June 13. Gershkovich was arrested after authorities alleged he had been spying on a Russian tank factory in Yekaterinburg near the Ural Mountains on behalf of the CIA.

Both the United States and Gershkovich’s employer, the Wall Street Journal, have denied the accusations that Gershkovich was spying for the CIA, while the US government has designated the journalist as wrongfully detained. Russian officials have stated they would only pursue a prisoner swap if Gershkovich is convicted, while Roger Carstens, the United States’s Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs, stated that he remains hopeful about securing the release of the journalist.

Evan Gershkovich during a court appearance. (Photo – ABC News)

Russian President Vladimir Putin previously stated that he believes a prisoner swap could be facilitated, with analysts suggesting the government may plan to trade Gershkovich for convicted murderer and Russian citizen Vadim Krasikov, who was imprisoned in Germany following his role in the killing of a Chechen man in Berlin in 2019. Krasikov was to be transferred to Russia in a deal to secure the release of Russian political opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was found dead in February.

Two other Americans face prosecution in Russia: US Marine Paul Whelan, convicted of larceny for using someone else’s social security number and cashing “bad checks,” and Alsu Kurmasheva, an editor for the US-funded media outlet Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, detained since October for allegedly failing to register as a “foreign agent” and collecting information for foreign governments. Both deny any wrongdoing.

Some believe the detention of American citizens by Russian authorities is in a bid to negotiate the release of key Russian figures, such as the prisoner exchange of Brittney Griner, a WNBA player, for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was serving time in an American prison after being convicted in 2011 of conspiring to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a designated terrorist group, to be used to kill US citizens in Colombia.