Ukraine Says Russia Uses Musk’s Starlink Terminals at Front

(Bloomberg) -- Ukrainian military intelligence said Russian forces increasingly use Starlink terminals on the frontline, a new twist in Kyiv’s uneasy relationship with Elon Musk’s internet service.

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Intercepted conversations between Russian troops in the occupied Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine indicate they had Starlink devices installed for internet access, the Ukrainian defense ministry intelligence directorate said Sunday on its website.

“This is starting to become systemic,” the RBC-Ukraine news site quoted military intelligence spokesman Andriy Yusov as saying on Saturday about Russian forces’ use of Starlink.

Talk about Russian troops using the satelite service bubbled up on Ukrainian social networks and media last week. Starlink Inc. isn’t active in Russia, meaning the service will not work in that country, the company said Thursday on Musk’s X social media platform, formerly Twitter.

Starlink’s statement didn’t specify whether the prohibition would also apply to the four large areas of eastern and southern Ukraine that Russia illegally annexed in 2022, where hundreds of thousands of Russian troops are believed to be deployed. In the past it has restricted the use of internet services in Russian-occupied territories.

Musk posted on X that reports SpaceX is selling Starlink terminals to Russia are false. “To the best of our knowledge, no Starlinks have been sold directly or indirectly to Russia,” he wrote.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier Sunday, citing Ukraine’s military intelligence, that Russian forces are using the satellite internet system in occupied Ukraine.

Musk activated the Starlink satellite service in Ukraine during the early months of Russia’s full-scale invasion, responding to Kyiv’s plea. Soon, the devices became a vital part of the country’s infrastructure, providing internet services in areas of fighting and beyond.

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The increasing dependence of Ukraine’s military on Starlink became ever more apparent, raising the concerns of its creator. Last year, Musk admitted he had prevented Starlink from being used as part of a Ukrainian attack on a Russian naval base on the Crimean Peninsula, which was annexed by the Kremlin in 2014. His comments prompted an outcry in Kyiv and a US Senate query.

Musk said on the All-In Podcast that he would have extended Starlink for the Ukrainians in Crimea if US President Joe Biden had directed him to do so, but no such directive came. He said Starlink had been turned off over Crimea originally because of US sanctions on Russia.

(Updates with Musk comment from X in sixth paragraph.)

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