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It was another day in court for a U.S. military serviceman who faces charges in Russia

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

In Russia, an American military service member faces charges of theft and for allegedly threatening to kill his girlfriend, who lives in the far east part of the country. It's the latest arrest of Americans in Russia. NPR's Charles Maynes reports from Moscow.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Thirty-four-year-old Staff Sergeant Gordon Black had been stationed in South Korea and was preparing to return to the U.S. when he made a decision that the Army says violated its rules and - some might argue - violated common sense. Without seeking clearance from superiors, he traveled to the far eastern city of Vladivostok, entering Russia through China to see his Russian girlfriend, with whom he'd started a relationship during his posting overseas.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIKTOK VIDEO)

ALEKSANDRA VASHCHUK: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: Social media postings from 2023 on the account of Aleksandra Vashchuk show her and Black engaging on a range of issues, including here, where Black weighs in on current U.S-Russian tensions.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIKTOK VIDEO)

GORDON BLACK: The relationship definitely isn't good now.

MAYNES: Fast-forward to today, and Black's fate is now another irritant in that relationship. Last month, Vashchuk filed a police report accusing him of stealing money - just over $100 - and attempting to choke her to death - charges that can land him up to five years in jail. In court, Black pled guilty to taking the money, but denied any intent to harm. Meanwhile Vashchuk, in interviews before cameras, is calling for leniency.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VASHCHUK: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: "I don't want to see him get a long sentence," she says in this interview outside the courthouse. "He needs psychological help." The case presents another challenge for U.S. authorities, already working to gain the release of several Americans in Russian jails on what the White House says are spurious charges - among them, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who Russian authorities accused of spying for the CIA. Today, a Russian court announced his trial will begin behind closed doors in the city of Yekaterinburg, in Russia's Ural Mountains, later this month. Meanwhile, U.S. Embassy representatives have traveled from Moscow, more than 5,000 miles away, to attend staff Sergeant Black's hearings, and the State Department is again warning Americans to stay clear of Russia, noting an increased risk of arbitrary detention by security agencies.

Charles Maynes, NPR News, Moscow.

(SOUNDBITE OF PORTICO QUARTET'S "WINDING SNAKE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Charles Maynes
[Copyright 2024 NPR]