Moscow’s Red Square, with St. Basil’s Cathedral on the left and the Kremlin with the Spassky tower at right.

Moscow’s Red Square, with St. Basil’s Cathedral on the left and the Kremlin with the Spassky tower at right. (Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON — A U.S. Army staff sergeant who was visiting his girlfriend in Russia was arrested and remains in custody on charges he stole from her, U.S. officials said.

Staff Sgt. Gordon Black, 34, was detained Thursday in Vladivostok, a military and commercial port in the Pacific, and remains in a pre-trial detention facility, Army spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said Tuesday in a statement. Black was assigned to Eighth Army, U.S. Forces Korea at Camp Humphreys in South Korea and was scheduled to move to Fort Cavazos, Texas, Smith said.

Instead, Black traveled to Russia to see his girlfriend, according to Martin Jones, Black’s stepfather.

“We told him to come home and go to his next post,” Jones said. “But we found out he actually went [to Russia]. A week after he got there … he got ahold of us through Facebook. We’re hoping he gets home soon.”

Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh told reporters Tuesday that the Army has opened an administrative investigation to determine the facts and circumstances surrounding Black’s travel.

“Instead of returning to the continental United States, Black flew from Incheon, Republic of Korea, through China to Vladivostok, Russia, for personal reasons,” Smith said. “Black did not request official clearance, and [the Defense Department] did not authorize his travel to China and Russia. There is no evidence Black intended to remain in Russia after his [permanent change of station] leave period ended.”

His arrest further complicates U.S. relations with Russia, which have grown increasingly tense over the war in Ukraine.

An official from the Russian Ministry of Interior informed the U.S. Embassy in Moscow on Friday that Black was arrested Thursday for theft of personal property. Smith said there is no further information about Black’s situation at this time.

“[Black] will remain in detention until his next hearing pending determination,” she added.

A Russian court said Tuesday that Black would be held in custody until July 2, according to NBC News, which was the first to report his arrest.

“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin has a long history of holding American citizens hostage. A warning to all Americans — as the State Department has said, it is not safe to travel to Russia,” Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a social post shared Monday on X.

The Russian woman who Black was visiting had lived in South Korea, officials told The Associated Press.

Martin Jones said the soldier is married but has been dealing with a divorce for about a year and a half. He said the Army was aware of Black’s girlfriend because the couple had a domestic dispute, and she was deported from South Korea back to Russia.

Black’s mother Melody Jones told ABC’s Good Morning America on Tuesday that the soldier was on a two-week leave when he traveled to Russia, and she felt he was being set up because she suspected his girlfriend was a spy.

Black enlisted in the Army as an infantryman in 2008. He deployed to Iraq from October 2009 through September 2010. Black also served in Afghanistan from June 2013 until March 2014.

The soldier is not the only American detained in Russia. The U.S. government has said The Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was jailed in March 2023, and Marine veteran Paul Whelan, who was arrested in 2018, are both wrongfully detained in the country.

The arrest comes less than a year after Army Pvt. Travis King was taken into custody by North Korea. He was stationed in South Korea and ran into the country during a group tour of the heavily guarded Joint Security Area, where King was promptly detained. He was returned to the U.S in September and charged with desertion in October.

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Matthew Adams covers the Defense Department at the Pentagon. His past reporting experience includes covering politics for The Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle and The News and Observer. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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