Friday, May 24, 2024

White House confirms US soldier detained in Russia

A US soldier was arrested in Russia last week, the US Army and the National Security Council confirmed Monday.

On May 2, “Russian authorities in Vladivostok, Russia, detained an American Soldier on charges of criminal misconduct”, U.S. Army spokesperson Cynthia O. Smith said in a statement to The Hill.

Smith added the Russian Federation notified the State Department of the criminal detention, and the Army thereafter notified the soldier’s family.

The State Department “is providing appropriate consular support to the Soldier in Russia”, she continued.

And a NSC spokesperson told The Hill that the State Department “is actively seeking consular access to this individual, who was not in Russia on behalf of or in affiliation with the U.S. government”.

They referred further questions about the individual’s employment to the Pentagon, which referred The Hill to the Army.

White House national security communications adviser John Kirby also told reporters Monday that the White House is aware of the detained soldier.

NBC first reported that a service member who had been stationed in South Korea traveled to Russia on his own and was not on official business when he was arrested May 2 in in Vladivostok, a port city near the borders with China and North Korea.

The soldier is accused of stealing from a woman, four U.S. officials told the outlet.

The NSC spokesperson said the U.S. takes seriously its commitment to assist American citizens abroad while reiterating its strong warnings that “U.S. citizens should not travel to Russia at this time — period”.

CBS News identified the detained service member as Army Staff Sgt. Gordon D. Black.

Shortly after the news broke of the arrested soldier, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said he was “deeply concerned” by the reports.

“[President Vladimir] Putin has a long history of holding American citizens hostage,” he wrote on X, adding, “A warning to all Americans – as the State Department has said, it is not safe to travel to Russia.”

Russia has increasingly arrested Americans that have traveled to the country as relations between Moscow and Washington tanked following the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The Kremlin maintains that those it has arrested broke the law, while the U.S. claims Russia is targeting U.S. citizens to use as political leverage.

Included among the detained Americans is Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, 32, who has been in Russian custody for a year. He is awaiting trial in a Moscow prison on espionage charges.

Also accused of espionage is former Marine Paul Whelan, who was arrested in Moscow in 2018 while attending a friend’s wedding. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020 but has said the charges against him were fabricated.

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