Musk Blocked Ukraine’s Starlink Access Near Crimea


  • Elon Musk reportedly blocked Ukraine from using Starlink for an attack on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.
  • The SpaceX CEO was concerned about nuclear war, according to biographer Walter Isaacson.
  • SpaceX has admitted to limiting Ukraine’s use of Starlink satellites for offensive military operations.

Elon Musk, expressing concerns about nuclear war following conversations with Russian government officials, personally intervened to block Ukraine from carrying out a drone strike on Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet, according to a biographer who spoke with the CEO of SpaceX.

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion, Ukraine’s military has heavily relied on the satellite communications network known as Starlink, crediting it with allowing front-line troops to stay in contact with their commanders. The system is owned by SpaceX, which — with the help of private donations and US taxpayer funding — has provided Ukraine with thousands of Starlink terminals since February 2022.

But according to journalist Walter Isaacson, author of an upcoming biography on the SpaceX founder, the militarization of Starlink has made Musk deeply uncomfortable.

“How am I in this war?” Musk asked Isaacson during an interview, according to an excerpt from the book reported on by CNN. “Starlink was not meant to be involved in wars. It was so people can watch Netflix and chill and get online for school and do good peaceful things, not drone strikes.”

It has previously been reported — and admitted by SpaceX leadership — that steps have been taken to prevent Ukraine from using the Starlink system for certain attacks. Last fall, Ukrainian forces reported “catastrophic” outages in areas that had previously been occupied by Russia, suggesting the system had been deliberately deactivated there, possibly to deny Russian access (Musk, at the time, said information regarding Starlink’s use on the battlefield was “classified”).

In July, The New York Times, citing “two people familiar with the discussions,” reported that Musk had personally denied a Ukrainian request to allow Starlink to be used for a maritime drone attack near Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014. Ukraine has carried out multiple such attacks using remotely operated vessels loaded with explosives to ram into Russian ships.

According to Isaacson, Musk himself ordered Starlink engineers to deactivate the system along the coast of Crimea, thwarting a Ukrainian drone attack on the Russian fleet (the drones “lost connectivity and washed ashore”). He then rejected a direct appeal from a top Ukrainian official to enable the system for future such attacks, per Isaacson.

It is not clear whether Musk had the system deactivated to thwart a specific attack or whether, more generally, he was concerned about Ukrainian actions near Crimea. But last year, political analyst Ian Bremmer, after speaking with Musk, said the billionaire had rejected Ukrainian requests to activate the system near the Russian-occupied territory, citing concerns about nuclear war.

Indeed, Musk has publicly cited concerns that Ukrainian efforts to reclaim the peninsula could prompt a nuclear response from Russia, a fear that, according to Isaacson, was heightened by conversations he had with senior Russian officials.

The Kremlin has repeatedly hinted at the potential use of nuclear weapons, a tactic meant to dissuade Western governments from supporting Ukraine militarily, according to experts.

SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment. But the company’s president and chief operating officer, Gwynne Shotwell, has previously admitted taking steps to limit Ukraine’s ability to use Starlink for offensive purposes.

The system was “never meant to be weaponized,” Shotwell said earlier this year, citing Ukraine’s use of Starlink for drone reconnaissance and attacks. “There are things that we can do to limit their ability to do that,” she said. “There are things that we can do, and have done.”

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