US soldier goes on trial in Russia for threatening to kill girlfriend

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A US soldier, stationed in South Korea but detained in Russia on suspicion of stealing from his girlfriend and threatening to kill her, went on trial on Thursday, the state news agency RIA reported.

Gordon Black was detained on May 2 in Vladivostok in Russia’s far east on suspicion of stealing from his Russian girlfriend. Citing local prosecutors, Russian independent media reported he had also subsequently been charged with threatening to kill her.

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Black, a US Army staff sergeant posted at Camp Humphreys outside Seoul, pleaded guilty to theft in May, RIA reported at the time, citing interior ministry officials.

As his trial in Vladivostok began, Black said he understood the charges against him and agreed to testify.

When the judge asked him if he admitted guilt, RIA quoted Black as saying he would enter a plea later.

The interior ministry said Black had met the Russian woman in South Korea and later travelled to Vladivostok to be with her.

The Pentagon said he had broken army rules by travelling to Russia without authorization, having passed through China.

The United States warns its citizens against travel to Russia, citing reasons including “the potential for harassment and the singling out of US citizens for detention by Russian government security officials”. Russia has said Black’s case has no political element.

Black’s wife Megan Black, with whom he is finalizing a divorce, and his mother Melody Jones told Reuters last month that he and the Russian woman had a tempestuous and sometimes violent relationship.

Testifying in court on Thursday, Black’s girlfriend said he had frequent outbursts of aggression and had had run-ins with Russian police prior to his detention, the TASS state news agency reported.

Prosecutors said the couple had quarreled and the American had subsequently “forcibly grabbed the girl by the neck, which she perceived as a real threat to her life”.

Black is then alleged to have stolen 10,000 rubles ($110) from her purse and fled their shared apartment, according to media reports. He was later arrested at a local hotel, where he had purchased plane tickets and intended to fly back to the US.

Megan Black said she and their daughter had had no idea he was in Russia and had been expecting him back in Texas as his tour in South Korea had just ended.

She said she got a message from her husband on May 2, the day Russian authorities say they arrested him, “telling me that he wasn’t coming home”. She said they were already finalizing their divorce at the time and that she had not heard from him since.

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