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Ukraine: Musk defends Starlink decision on Crimea strike

September 9, 2023

Elon Musk has said he refused a request to extend satellite internet to the naval port city of Sevastopol in Crimea to enable a strike by Ukraine in 2022. He was responding to reports that he shut Starlink down instead.

Ukraine Starlink Internet Terminals Installed - Odesa
Ukraine has used Starlink units for internet connectivity since early in the conflictImage: Nina Lyashonok/Ukrinform/abaca/picture alliance

Elon Musk said he refused a request to activate his Starlink satellite network in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol to aid a drone attack on Russia's fleet there. 

He said he feared that agreeing would have made his company complicit in a "major" act of war and an "escalation" in the conflict following Russia's invasion

Initial reports of deactivating network

Musk was responding to earlier reporting, when CNN cited an excerpt of a new Musk biography that said he had disabled the network there, meaning that the explosives-laden drones "lost connectivity and washed ashore harmlessly."

"The Starlink regions in question were not activated. SpaceX did not deactivate anything," Musk said. 

Musk said in a later post on his recently rebranded X social media site that Ukraine had hoped to launch a suprise strike on Russia's Black Sea Fleet base in the closed Crimean port city of Sevastopol.

Black Sea naval escalation evident: Analyst Frank Ledwidge

"There was an emergency request from government authorities to activate Starlink all the way to Sevastopol. The obvious intent being to sink most of the Russian fleet at anchor. If I had agreed to their request, then SpaceX would be explicitly complicit in a major act of war and conflict escalation," Musk said. 

The Starlink network allows soldiers stable internet connection in remote areas or areas where other connections are down. Units were deployed to Ukraine soon after Russia's invasion last year. Some were donated, others were purchased by Ukrainian soldiers and their private supporters.

Sharp rebuke from Podolyak, Musk questions conflict

However, Musk's comments about the war since it broke out have also on occasion drawn criticism from Kyiv and elsewhere. 

Elon Musk
'The Starlink regions in question were not activated. SpaceX did not deactivate anything,' Musk saidImage: Gonzalo Fuentes/REUTERS

After the world's richest man had faced stern criticism following the initial reporting, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's aide Mykhailo Podolyak on Thursday issued a sharp rebuke even to Musk's version of events. 

"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 Ukrianian cities. As a result, civilians, children are being killed," Podolyak wrote. He said this was "the price of a cocktail of ignorance and a big ego." 

The Pentagon did not respond directly. It said it was "aware of the coverage and interest and in this topic," but that for "operational security" reasons it would not be issuing further details. 

Musk, meanwhile, also reiterated a prior call of his for both sides to agree to a truce, saying the conflict was becoming stagnant and futile.

"Every day that passes, more Ukrainian and Russian youth die to gain and lose small pieces of land, with borders barely changing. This is not worth their lives," he said.

Ukraine's counteroffensive 'slow-going but effective': Kurt Volker, former US Ambassador to NATO

Past similar comments from Musk suggesting a peace deal that seemed to mirror several Russian talking points — such as recognizing Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014, as Russian — had drawn outrage from Kyiv, particularly from former Ukrainian ambassador to Germany Andrij Melnyk.

msh/sri (AFP, Reuters)