Ukraine rips Elon Musk for disrupting sneak attack on Russian fleet with Starlink cutoff

Elon Musk, Chief Executive Officer of SpaceX and Tesla and owner of Twitter, looks on as he attends the Viva Technology conference dedicated to innovation and startups at the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre in Paris, France, June 16, 2023.
Gonzalo Fuentes | Reuters

WASHINGTON — A Ukrainian official slammed Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk for ordering engineers to shut off Starlink’s satellite network over Crimea last year in order to thwart a Ukrainian attack on Russian warships.

According to a new biography of Musk, the South African-born billionaire asked, “How am I in this war?” during an interview with author Walter Isaacson.

In the early days of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, as Western governments worked to supply Kyiv with artillery and air defense systems, the first of Musk’s Starlink terminals arrived in the country. The billionaire eventually soured on the arrangement.

“Starlink was not meant to be involved in wars. It was so people can watch Netflix and chill and get online for school and do good peaceful things, not drone strikes,” Musk said, according to the book. He told Isaacson that he was worried the Ukrainian attack on Russian vessels would provoke the Kremlin into launching a nuclear war. The book, titled “Elon Musk,” will be released Tuesday.

A top aide to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy lashed out at Musk over the revelation.

“By not allowing Ukrainian drones to destroy part of the Russian military fleet via Starlink interference, Elon Musk allowed this fleet to fire Kalibr missiles at Ukrainian cities,” Mykhailo Podolyak wrote Thursday on social media after CNN reported on some of the details from Isaacson’s book.

“As a result, civilians, children are being killed. This is the price of a cocktail of ignorance and big ego,” he added on X, which was formerly known as Twitter. Musk bought Twitter last year.

Crimea, a peninsula on the Black Sea that Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014, is home to Russia’s Black Sea warships. In the days following Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, the Black Sea fleet fired missiles on once-industrious Ukrainian coastal cities while imposing a devasting naval blockade.

Ukraine digital minister Mykhailo Fedorov, who had asked Musk for Starlink capability on Twitter, posted that Starlink was “here” in Ukraine — with a photo showing more than two dozen boxes in the back of a truck.

Starlink is SpaceX’s global network of more than 4,000 satellites that provide service to over 50 countries. In Ukraine, Starlink has worked as the connective tissue for crucial battlefield communications.

Isaacson added that Musk’s decision was discussed in a phone call with President Joe Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley.

Musk, according to Isaacson, was also engaged in a texting conversation with Fedorov. The official pleaded with Musk to restore Starlink’s connectivity so that Ukrainian submarine drones could carry out the attack on Russia’s warship fleet.

Musk replied that he thought Ukraine was “going too far and inviting strategic defeat,” according to Isaacson’s book.

“I think if the Ukrainian attacks had succeeded in sinking the Russian fleet, it would have been like a mini Pearl Harbor and led to a major escalation,” Musk said, according to Isaacson. “We did not want to be a part of that.”

Technology

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