Elon Musk denies sabotaging Starlink in Ukraine-Russia conflict

Credit: Support Forces of Ukraine Command

Elon Musk claims he did not order to shut down the Starlink satellite connection near the coast of Russian-occupied Crimea to hinder a Ukrainian attack on the Russian naval fleet, he simply refused to activate it. 

SpaceX has been supplying Starlink terminals to Ukraine since the beginning of the war in 2022 to provide internet connection to the country’s civilians and military. 

Starlink’s high-speed connectivity has proved crucial for the Ukrainian military, especially for unmanned systems such as drones. However, according to an upcoming book, Musk has found himself entangled in the ongoing Ukraine-Russia conflict. 

“How am I in this war?” Musk was quoted in a CNN article, which has gained access to an extract from the new biography. “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.” 

The new biography of the SpaceX CEO has been written by American journalist and writer Walter Isaacson and is scheduled to officially go on sale from September 12, 2023.  

The book reveals that in 2022, Musk secretly ordered the shutdown of the Starlink network in order to disrupt an uncrewed surface vessel (USV) attack by Ukraine on the Russian naval fleet in Sevastopol, concerned it would provoke Russia into using nuclear weapons. 

Yet on September 8, 2023, Musk denied any involvement in the sabotage mentioned in the biography. By his own account, the Starlink network in the region could not be turned off as it was not actually turned on. Supposedly, the Ukrainian side tried to persuade Musk to do so, but he refused. 

“There was an emergency request from government authorities to activate Starlink all the way to Sevastopol,” he replied in a comment on X (formerly known as Twitter). “If I had agreed to their request, then SpaceX would be explicitly complicit in a major act of war and conflict escalation.” 

However, SpaceX has limited Starlink connection to Ukrainian soldiers before. In February 2023, SpaceX, led by Musk, announced that it had taken efforts to prevent its Starlink satellite communications service from controlling Ukrainian military drones. 

Instances of lost connectivity have had serious implications for Ukrainian soldiers, forcing commanders to risk their lives by driving to the battlefield to establish radio range. 

Moreover, based on documents obtained by CNN, in October 2022, SpaceX informed the US Department of Defense that it would no longer pay for the satellite equipment in Ukraine. 

The US and European governments finally reached an agreement with Musk to provide another 100,000 Starlink satellite dishes to Ukraine in early 2023. 

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