In a dramatic revelation, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk disclosed that he had turned down a Ukrainian request to activate his Starlink satellite network in Crimea’s port city of Sevastopol. Musk expressed concerns about potentially becoming complicit in a “major” act of war and escalation if he had acquiesced to the request.
The disclosure came after an excerpt from a new biography of Musk, authored by Walter Isaacson, suggested that Musk had ordered the Starlink network to be turned off near the Crimean coast to disrupt a Ukrainian sneak attack.
Taking to his social media platform, X (formerly Twitter), Musk explained that he had no choice but to decline Ukraine’s emergency request to activate Starlink all the way to Sevastopol. He didn’t specify the date of the request, and the excerpt from the biography did not provide this information.
Elon Musk stated that the clear intent of the request was to sink a significant portion of the Russian fleet anchored in Sevastopol. He emphasized that agreeing to Ukraine’s request would have made SpaceX explicitly complicit in a major act of war and escalation.
The Crimea Conflict Context:
Since Russia’s annexation of the Crimea peninsula in 2014, the region has been a source of tension and conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Russia bases its Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol and has used this fleet to effectively blockade Ukrainian ports since a full-scale invasion in 2022. The conflict has seen the Russian fleet firing cruise missiles at Ukrainian civilian targets, and Ukraine responding with maritime drone attacks on Russian ships.
Elon Musk’s Fears of Escalation:
According to the biography by Walter Isaacson, Musk’s decision to turn off Starlink in the Crimean region was motivated by a deep fear that Russia would respond to a Ukrainian attack with nuclear weapons. This fear was reportedly based on Musk’s conversations with senior Russian officials and his concerns about a “mini-Pearl Harbor” scenario.
SpaceX, Musk’s aerospace company, has been providing Ukraine and its military with Starlink internet service. Starlink is a rapidly expanding network of over 4,000 satellites in low Earth orbit. The service has been delivered through private donations and under a separate contract with a U.S. foreign aid agency.
The Pentagon had previously announced that SpaceX’s Starlink had a Department of Defense contract to purchase satellite services for Ukraine.
While Musk’s decision to reject Ukraine’s request was a challenging one, it underscores the complexities and high stakes involved in the ongoing conflict in the region. The situation serves as a reminder of the critical role technology and satellite networks can play in modern warfare and geopolitics.