Elon Musk Takes a Tough Stance on Ukraine

Tesla CEO provides Starlink service to Ukraine at war with Russia. But there are limitations that he has just reaffirmed.

Elon Musk is a big supporter of Ukraine at war with Russia since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of the country almost a year ago. 

Eight days after this unprovoked invasion, according to the expression of the allies, Musk was the very first CEO of a multinational to officially announce his support for Ukraine. The serial entrepreneur has thus taken part — something rare in the business world — environment in this conflict presented since as democracies against autocracies.

“🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦 Hold Strong Ukraine 🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦,” the billionaire posted on March 4.

Starlink to Ukraine

The merit of this message is that it freed many CEOs who jumped into the breach opened by the Techno King, as he is known at Tesla  (TSLA) – Get Free Report, to openly criticize Putin and personally condemn the Russian invasion.

Musk then did something rare: he decided to provide Starlink, the satellite internet access service developed by SpaceX, his aerospace company. For many observers Starlink has been a real game changer in this war. The service has indeed enabled Ukrainians to benefit from uninterrupted, independent and secure Internet access, while Russia had destroyed the country’s telecommunications infrastructure.

“Over 100 cruise missiles attacked 🇺🇦 energy and communications infrastructure,” Mykhailo Fedorov, Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine and Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, said last October. “But with Starlink we quickly restored the connection in critical areas. Starlink continues to be an essential part of critical infrastructure.”

Musk said last October that 25,300 terminals were sent to Ukraine, but “at present, only 10,630 are paying for service.”

At the time, there was a controversy over the financing of these terminals, the cost of which had increased due to the Russian cyberattacks of which they were victims. The serial entrepreneur asked the Pentagon to bear part of the costs but he finally decided to continue to provide the service for free.

Musk Doesn’t Want Starlink to Control Ukraine’s Drones

Starlink provides access to the internet for residents of areas that are poorly served by the fixed and mobile networks of telecom operators. Thousands of small satellites circulating in low orbit — mainly 342 miles (550km) above Earth — enable the service.

In Ukraine, the secure and independent service is used particularly by civilians in areas under attack by Russia and in areas where infrastructure has been destroyed.

In addition, Starlink satellites have also become the only means of communication for the Ukrainian armed forces on the frontlines. Starlink satellites also are helping Ukrainian military drones destroy Russian tanks and army trucks. The drones are equipped with anti-tank grenades to be launched at targets.

“Starlink is the primary communications system of the Ukrainian army on the war front. If anyone else wants this job, please be my guest,” Musk has repeated.

Musk, however, put a limit on the use of Starlink antennas by the Ukrainian armed forces. SpaceX has taken steps to ensure that Starlink antennas are not used to run Ukrainian drones. Musk only wants to avoid controlling the Ukrainian drones which badly need them in their fights against the Russians.

On Feb. 9, Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer, said at a conference, that Starlink was “never meant to be weaponized.” She added that Ukraine had leveraged the technology “in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement.”

The decision caused anger of the Ukrainian officials who have been asking for more military aid from the allies — European Union, NATO and the United States — as the Russian bombardments intensify.

“A year of 🇺🇦 resistance & companies have to decide: either they are on the side of 🇺🇦 & the right to freedom, and don’t seek ways to do harm. Or they are on RF’s side & its ‘right’ to kill & seize territories,” Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted at Shotwell on Feb. 9. “#SpaceX (Starlink) & Mrs. #Shotwell should choose a specific option.”

But Musk has just reaffirmed his group’s position. Basically, SpaceX maintains its measures to curtail the Ukrainian military’s use of Starlink for controlling drones. The billionaire made the announcement after a tweet from astronaut Scott Kelly asking him to fully restore service to the Ukrainian forces.

“@elonmusk Ukraine desperately needs your continued support,” Kelly said on Feb.11. “Please restore the full functionality of your Starlink satellites. Defense from a genocidal invasion is not an offensive capability. It’s survival. Innocent lives will be lost. You can help. Thank you.”

Musk wanted to be clear. It won’t happen.

“You’re smart enough not to swallow media & other propaganda bs [bullshit],” the billionaire responded on Feb. 12. “Starlink is the communication backbone of Ukraine, especially at the front lines, where almost all other Internet connectivity has been destroyed.

He added: “But we will not enable escalation of conflict that may lead to WW3 [World war 3].”

Musk thus remains faithful to a statement he had already made at the end of January.

“We are not allowing Starlink to be used for long-range drone strikes,” he said on Jan. 31.

Last September he also claimed that Starlink was a tool for “peaceful use only.”

This is not the first time that there have been tensions between Musk and the Ukrainian authorities. In October, the tech mogul proposed a controversial peace plan to end the Russia-Ukraine War that caused an uproar among Ukrainians. 

The Russian war in Ukraine contributed to imposing Musk on the international geopolitical scene. The billionaire took the opportunity to build his image as a global CEO

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