Elon Musk has acknowledged that he denied satellite internet service in order to prevent a Ukrainian drone attack on a Russian naval fleet last year, prompting an angry response from a Ukrainian official.
The Starlink satellite internet service, which is operated by Mr. Musk’s rocket company SpaceX, has been a digital lifeline in Ukraine since the early days of the war for both civilians and soldiers in areas where digital infrastructure has been wiped out.
On Thursday, CNN reported that an excerpt from Walter Isaacson’s upcoming biography, “Elon Musk” said the billionaire had ordered the deactivation of Starlink satellite service near the coast of Crimea last September to thwart the Ukrainian attack. The excerpt said that Mr. Musk had conversations with a Russian official that led him to worry that an attack on Crimea could spiral into a nuclear conflict.
Later on Thursday, Mr. Musk responded on his social media platform to say that he hadn’t disabled the service but had rather refused to comply with an emergency request from Ukrainian officials to enable Starlink connections to Sevastopol on the occupied Crimean peninsula. That was in effect an acknowledgment that he had made the decision to prevent a Ukrainian attack.
“The obvious intent being to sink most of the Russian fleet at anchor,” he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “If I had agreed to their request, then SpaceX would be explicitly complicit in a major act of war and conflict escalation.”
That drew an angry response from Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. Mr. Musk’s “interference,” he said, had allowed Russia’s naval fleet to continue firing cruise missiles at Ukrainian cities.
“As a result, civilians, children are being killed. This is the price of a cocktail of ignorance and big ego,” he wrote on X.
Within days of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Mr. Musk sent Starlink terminals to the country in response to public pleas from Ukrainian officials. Throughout the war, the connectivity provided by Starlink has been pivotal for Ukraine to coordinate drone strikes and gather intelligence.
The more than 42,000 Starlink terminals are also in use by hospitals, businesses and aid organizations across Ukraine.