Elon Musk ‘stopped Ukraine military using Starlink for military operation’

Billionaire Elon Musk reportedly restricted his Starlink internet access multiple times in Ukraine, which has affected Kyiv’s battlefield strategy.

The world’s richest man denied the Ukrainian military’s request to turn on Starlink near Crimea, the Russian-controlled territory, during the ongoing war with Russia, the New York Times reported, citing people familiar with the situation.

The Tesla CEO has been providing Starlink service to Ukraine since late February 2022, just days after Russian president Vladimir Putin launched his unprovoked invasion and a cyberattack took down the country’s internet.

SpaceX’s Starlink makes up the majority of satellites orbiting Earth with more than 4,000 of them in the low-Earth orbit.

Mr Musk’s unilateral hold over his satellite internet technology, which has been an essential part of Ukraine's communications since the war, has raised concerns among officials, according to the report.

In February this year, SpaceX announced it had taken steps to prevent Ukraine's military from using the Starlink satellite internet service for controlling drones in the region.

Following the announcement, Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak said SpaceX needed to pick a side in the war against Russia.

Ukrainian authorities worried about over-dependence on a single source technology held talks with other satellite internet providers. But they acknowledged none rival Starlink’s reach.

“Starlink is indeed the blood of our entire communication infrastructure now,” Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s digital minister, told NYT.

The technology, he said, enabled artillery teams, commanders and pilots to watch drone footage simultaneously while chatting online. According to soldiers, the response times from finding a target to hitting it have been cut to about a minute from nearly 20 minutes.

“The huge number of lives that Starlink has helped save can be measured in the thousands,” Mr Fedorov added. “This is one of the fundamental components of our success."

Mr Musk also asked the US last year to fund for their internet services to Ukraine because they could not continue the arrangement. The company estimated the cost at nearly $400m over 12 months, according to a SpaceX letter reported by CNN.

About 1,300 Starlink terminals purchased through a British supplier stopped working last year after the Ukrainian government could not pay the $2,500 monthly fee for each, according to the report.

Meanwhile, defence secretary Lloyd Austin in June approved a Pentagon deal to buy 400 to 500 new Starlink terminals and services, that would provide the Pentagon control of the setting where the internet signal worked inside Ukraine for new devices to carry out “key capabilities and certain missions”.

The Independent has reached out to Space X for a comment.