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US soldier Gordon Black pleads not guilty to attacking Russian girlfriend

A gavel cracks down. (Airman 1st Class Aspen Reid/U.S. Air Force)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Gordon Black, who was arrested in Russia’s Far East city of Vladivostok last month, rejected a charge of attacking his Russian girlfriend and threatening to kill her, as his trial resumed.

Black testified at the trial on June 17 that Aleksandra Vashchuk drank a large amount of vodka on the day of the incident in question and started behaving aggressively towards him, verbally insulting him and also physically attacking with punches to the ear and eye. She also threw a plate at him, he said.

According to Black, when he started to pack his belongings to leave the apartment, Vashchuk tried to block his exit and they scuffled.

Black accepted that he hit Vashchuk once and pushed her twice after which Vashchuk crashed into a wall.

Black partially accepted guilt on a charge that he had taken cash from Vashchuk, adding that he had no bad intention about it as he returned the sum to her the next day.

Black also said that, before arriving in Vladivostok from South Korea, he sent about 300,000 rubles ($3,350) to Vashchuk. After arriving in Russia, he transferred another $525 to her via an acquaintance.

Vashchuk confirmed that Black had contributed to a major part of the rent for the apartment in Vladivostok where they had lived together for a month. She reiterated her previous statement, saying that Black had aggressive episodes several times during their partnership.

At the trial’s first session on June 6, Vashchuk asked the court not to imprison Black, saying he needs “psychiatric help.”

U.S. authorities have said Black traveled to Russia via China from South Korea — where he had been assigned before heading back home to Texas — without informing his superiors.

Weeks later, Russian authorities also said that another U.S. citizen, identified as William Russell Nycum, had been detained on “petty hooliganism” and alcohol charges in a separate case, adding that Nycum was being held in a detention center in Moscow.

The two arrests have again raised questions over whether Russian authorities are targeting Americans by detaining them with an eye on using them in potential prisoner swaps amid sharp disagreements between Moscow and Washington over the war in Ukraine and other international security issues.

Among those U.S. citizens being held are journalists Alsu Kurmasheva of RFE/RL and Evan Gershkovich of The Wall Street Journal. Both have been detained on charges they, their employers, and their supporters reject as politically motivated.

American Paul Whelan was convicted in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in Russian prison on espionage charges that he and the U.S. government have repeatedly rejected.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has said the cases involving Black and Nycum are not political and neither is accused of espionage.

The State Department in September 2023 issued a “do not travel” warning to U.S. citizens and cited “the singling out of U.S. citizens for detention by Russian government security officials.”