Army investigating whether detained U.S. soldier was lured to Russia by intelligence services

The U.S. Army is investigating whether a soldier who is currently being held in Russia on theft charges was lured there by the country's intelligence services, a Pentagon spokesperson said Tuesday.

"There is an administrative investigation underway to determine the facts and circumstances around his travel," Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said at a news conference.

Asked specifically whether Staff Sgt. Gordon Black may been targeted by Russian intelligence, Singh replied: "This is something that the Army is looking into."

Black did not have Defense Department clearance to visit the country nor is there any indication that he planned to stay there, Army spokesperson Cynthia O. Smith said earlier Tuesday.

Based in South Korea, Black was supposed to be traveling to Fort Cavazos, Texas, to start a new assignment.

“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.”

The personal reason being that Black was intending to meet a woman he was romantically involved with, four U.S. officials told NBC News.

The revelation came after NBC News reported Monday that the soldier was detained after traveling from where he was stationed in South Korea to the far eastern Russian city of Vladivostok.

A Russian court later confirmed that Black would be held in custody for at least two months.

"Pervomaisky District Court in Vladivostok arrested American soldier Gordon Black until July 2 under the 'theft' article" of Russia’s criminal code," court spokeswoman Elena Oleneva said in a statement.

Black was charged with “secretly stealing property” of a person referred to as “citizen T,” adding that this had caused the alleged victim “significant damage,” Oleneva said.

Black, whose Facebook page and public records indicate he’s from southern Illinois, enlisted in the U.S. Army as an Infantryman in 2008, Smith said.

From October 2009 through September 2010, Black served in Iraq, Smith said. He also served in Afghanistan from June 2013 until March 2014.

Most recently, Smith said, Black was assigned to the Eighth Army and based at Camp Humphreys in South Korea, which is the largest overseas U.S. military installation in the world.

On April 10, Black was “out-processed” and given two weeks to get to Texas, Smith said.

Instead, Black wound up Thursday in handcuffs in Vladivostok to prevent him from evading charges, the Army confirmed.

“The court came to the conclusion that U.S. citizen B., under the weight of the charges, in order to avoid responsibility, could hide from the preliminary investigation authorities and the court, thereby preventing the proceedings in the case,” Oleneva's statement said.

State news agency TASS reported that the Russian Foreign Ministry’s office in Vladivostok said his detention had nothing to do with politics.

“This case has no relation to politics or espionage. As far as we understand, a household crime [is suspected] in this case. That is why the Russian Foreign Ministry’s mission in Vladivostok is not following the case of the U.S. citizen closely,” the mission said, according to TASS.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said Monday he was "deeply concerned" by the news. He said on X that the detention was "A warning to all Americans — as the State Department has said, it is not safe to travel to Russia."

In an interview with ABC's “Good Morning America,” Black's mother, Melody Jones, said she had deep misgivings about her son going to Russia.

“I told him I was really uncomfortable,” Jones said. “I had a bad feeling about him going, but he went anyway.”

Jones, who has been in touch with her son since his arrest, said he told her the Russians questioned him for nine hours at the airport.

“I cry at night," she said. "I’m hoping he’s not being tortured or hurt.”

Current travel guidance from the U.S. State Department advises against all travel to Russia.

There are several other Americans held in Russian prisons, including Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was jailed last March, and former Marine Paul Whelan, who was arrested in 2018. The U.S. government has said both are being wrongfully detained.

Meanwhile, another U.S. citizen was arrested and detained in Russia, it was revealed Tuesday. The man, named as Russell William Nycum, was sentenced to 10 days in jail for “petty hooliganism,” according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

Citing REN-TV, RIA said the American “got drunk, climbed through the window into a children’s library and fell asleep there.”

The Associated Press reported that the arrest of U.S. citizens in Russia has reached Cold War levels.

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