“Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, Elon Musk launched a digital lifeline for Ukrainians by providing them with Starlink internet service, operated by his space company SpaceX”recalls the New York Times.
Since then, some 20,000 terminals have been deployed in the country, providing Ukrainians and their army with reliable internet access that is not very exposed to Russian interference and attacks: the Starlink network, which is based “on thousands of satellites”indeed turns out “much harder to sabotage than traditional internet services” terrestrial, explains the New York daily. So it’s a network “ideal in times of war”.
In fact, Starlink has become an indispensable part of kyiv’s military apparatus. “Ukrainian forces use it to fly drones in real time, target their artillery fire, or be in contact with their families”explains the washington post. A Ukrainian commander summarizes: “Fighting without Starlink on the front line is like fighting without weapons”.
Under these conditions, there is no doubt that a “Starlink shutdown would cripple the main mode of communication for the Ukrainian military and its defences”and would offer “a major advantage to Russia”observes the daily newspaper of the American capital.
This does not seem to move Elon Musk, who tweeted on Friday that SpaceX “not [pouvait] not continue to fund the existing system indefinitely and send thousands of additional terminals”. For the richest man in the world, it wouldn’t be “within reason”.
The Daily Beast notes that Musk’s decision comes days after a heated exchange between the billionaire and Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany Andrij Melnyk. In response to “peace plan” proposed by Elon Musk to end the war in Ukraine – which required the latter to renounce Crimea and pledge to remain neutral – the ambassador had tweeted to Musk: “Screw you”.
To a journalist, quoted by The Daily Beastwhich recalled this exchange Friday on Twitter, the boss of Tesla replied: “We just follow his recommendations”implying that the ambassador’s insult was one of the reasons for his decision to disconnect Starlink.
But CNN revealed on Friday that the billionaire had contacted the Pentagon as early as September to inform him of his disengagement and to urge the American government to “take over the funding of the service, for the Ukrainian government and its army”.
In his letter to the Pentagon, the content of which is published by CNNSpaceX claimed that the operation had already cost it $80 million and that the bill would increase by another “120 million dollars by the end of the year, and 400 million for the next twelve months”.
The conciliatory Ukraine
The missive further reveals a detail that Elon Musk did not shout from the rooftops when he was taking the laurels of the Starlink deployment at the start of the war: “The vast majority of the 20,000 terminals have been fully or partially funded by outside sources [à SpaceX]including the US government, the UK and Poland”. The billionaire’s company has notably retained the operation and maintenance of the service.
If Elon Musk’s decision makes kyiv’s allies cringe, the Ukrainian authorities have been more conciliatory, observes the wall street journal. Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, assured that “kyiv would find a solution to keep Satrlink running in Ukraine, and that it was counting on SpaceX to keep the service going in the meantime”specifies the economic daily.
“Whether we want it or not, [M. Musk] helped us survive the most difficult time of the war”Mr. Podolyak wrote on Twitter. “Companies have the right to decide their own strategy”.