Elon Musk personally rejected a Ukrainian request to extend his satellite internet service to Crimea, the SpaceX CEO fearing that an effort to retake the peninsula from Russian forces could lead to a nuclear war, according to a report published Tuesday.
Following Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine, Musk — and the US government — provided Kyiv with thousands of Starlink systems, enabling Ukrainian forces to communicate in what were previously dead zones. The low energy requirements of the service’s satellite receivers have enabled it to be connected to reconnaissance drones, Yahoo News reported, providing valuable, real-time intelligence on Russian movements and the ability to target them.
But recently there have been problems. Last week, the Financial Times reported that the service was suffering “catastrophic” outages on the frontlines, prompting speculation that it had been shut off in areas controlled by Russia — perhaps to prevent the Kremlin from itself exploiting the network.
On Twitter, Musk said he could not comment on battlefield conditions, saying “that’s classified.” But speaking to Eurasia Group political analyst Ian Bremmer in late September, Musk appeared to confirm that the satellite service was being intentionally disabled.
Neither SpaceX nor Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense immediately responded to requests for comment.
Musk, speaking to Bremmer, said that he had been asked by Ukraine’s defense ministry to activate Starlink in Crimea, which was invaded and illegally annexed by Russia in 2014. Per Bremmer, Musk “refused given the potential for escalation.”
According to Bremmer, Musk claimed to have recently spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin, asserting that he is “prepared to negotiate” (Musk this month proposed a Ukraine peace plan seen as aligning with Russian interests). In that conversation, Putin reportedly threatened to use nuclear weapons if Ukraine tried to retake the Crimean peninsula, which serves as the base for Russia’s naval forces on the Black Sea.
On Twitter, however, Musk flatly denied having any recent conversation with the Russian leader, writing that he has “spoken to Putin only once and that was about 18 months ago.” The subject, he said, “was space.” (Bremmer is likewise adamant, writing on social media that Musk “told me he had spoken with [P]utin and the [K]remlin directly about [U]kraine.”
Russian forces are losing ground in Ukraine’s south and have lost huge swathes in Ukraine’s east as they press into regions Russia declared it had annexed, sparking concern among arms control experts about whether Putin and his top advisers may contemplate an attack with a nuke from their vast arsenal in an attempt to stanch their losses.
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