The Army hasn’t yet said why Staff Sgt. Gordon C. Black may have traveled from South Korea to Russia last week but his mother told Task & Purpose that when her son set off to visit a girlfriend who had been deported, he walked into a trap.

“I told him ‘do not go, please do not go, it’s not going to go well’,” Melody Jones recalled Tuesday. “I just had that feeling.” 

Melody Jones said she believes her son’s girlfriend set him up. His relationship with her was volatile, Jones said, and she became angry with him after she was deported to Russia. But after the two started talking again, he agreed to visit  her.

“Like I said: When he loves, he loves hard,” Jones said on Tuesday.

Jones did not want her son to go to Russia because her instinct told her he would be in danger there.

 “I said ‘something is going to happen to you,I know it is. And I tried and I tried, but he’s a 35-year-old guy. You can only do so much when they’re that old. I didn’t know what else to say. You can just beg your child not to go somewhere.”

Jones acknowledges that her son should not have traveled to Russia. She said she asked Black directly if he had received official permission for the trip, but he didn’t answer.

“I said, ‘You didn’t, did you?’ And he would never tell me if he did or didn’t. And I told him, ‘You didn’t get permission to go to Russia. There’s no way. They’re not going to let you go there,’” Jones told Task & Purpose. “I said, ‘why don’t you meet in Thailand, China, anywhere but there?’”

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When Jones learned that her son had been arrested in Russia, she went numb.

“I felt like my heart was being ripped out,” Jones said. “I just felt very, very shaky.  Cried, screamed – of course. That’s my baby.”

A Facebook account for a man living in South Korea with Black’s name and appearance shows that one of his friends is a woman who is originally from Vladivostok, Russia. A since-deleted picture on her Facebook page shows her and the man at a beach together.

Black enlisted in the Army in 2008 and became an infantryman, the service said on Tuesday. He deployed to Iraq from October 2009 to September 2010 and then to Afghanistan from June 2013 to March 2014.

U.S. troops and Defense Department civilians are currently prohibited from traveling to Russia, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters on Tuesday. 

When asked if Black may have been lured to Russia so he could be apprehended, Singh replied, “This is something that the Army is looking into, which is why they  have launched an investigation to determine the facts and the circumstances of his travel; and I just don’t have anything more to add at this time.”

Before traveling to Russia, Black had out-processed from the Eighth Army at Camp Humphreys, South Korea, according to the Army. On April 10, he signed out on Permanent Change of Station to leave to travel to Fort Cavazos, Texas.

“Instead of returning to the continental United States, Black flew from Incheon, Republic of Korea through China to Vladivostok, Russia, for personal reasons,” the Army’s statement says. “Black did not request official clearance and DoD did not authorize his travel to China and Russia. Official and leave travel is currently restricted pursuant to the DoD Foreign Clearance Guide.  There is no evidence Black intended to remain in Russia after his PCS leave period ended.”  

The Russian Ministry of the Interior told the U.S. Embassy in Moscow on May 3 that Black had been arrested the day before in Vladivostok for theft of personal property, according to the Army. The Russian government did not provide any further information about why Black had been detained.

Black is currently being held in Russian pre-trial detention, where he will remain until his next hearing, the Army statement says.

“U.S. Embassy Moscow and Eighth Army notified Black’s family of his arrest shortly after Russian officials contacted the [U.S] Embassy Moscow,” according to the Army.

Why the Russians took Black into custody remain unclear. Russian media are reporting that Black and the Russian woman met in South Korea and then broke up, but the two stayed in communication and he visited her in April, said Olga Lautman, a Russia and Ukraine expert with the Center for European Policy Analysis think tank.

The Russian news outlet Izvestia has reported that Black is accused of beating his girlfriend and stealing 200,000 Rubles — or about $2,200 — from her said Lautman, who is also creator and co-host of the Kremlin File podcast. TASS, Russia’s official state media, is reporting that Russia’s foreign ministry is treating the incident as a domestic dispute that is not related to espionage or politics.

It is noteworthy that Russia has not yet accused Black of spying – as is typical for the Kremlin with high-profile detainees– and instead has accused him of domestic violence, which is rarely prosecuted in Russia, Lautman said.

The Russian embassy in Washington, D.C., did not immediately respond on Tuesday to a request for comment from Task & Purpose.

Russia’s arrest of Black is part of the Kremlin’s hybrid war against the United States, said Ivana Stradner, a Russia expert with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies think tank in Washington, D.C.

The Kremlin has repeatedly arrested Americans, such as Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, to use them to extract concessions from the U.S. government, Stradner told Task & Purpose.

The Russians may ultimately propose returning Black as part of a prisoner exchange, although the Kremlin may not view Black to be as valuable as other Americans it has in custody because he is an enlisted service member, Stradner said.

“Russia has a long history of detaining U.S. citizens, and this is a dream come true for the Kremlin to use [Black] as a bargaining chip with the United States,” Stradner said.

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