Elon Musk firm takes steps to halt Ukraine’s use of Starlink connectivity in engagements with Russian invaders
Elon Musk’s SpaceX has handed a setback to the Ukraine military forces, as they seek to defend their homeland from the Russian invaders.
SpaceX’s president admitted on Wednesday that the firm has taken steps to prevent Ukraine’s military from using the Starlink satellite internet service for controlling drones during its war with Russia, Reuters reported.
SpaceX had helped Ukraine during the early stages of confronting the illegal invasion by Russian forces, but in recent times SpaceX owner Elon Musk has at times been less than helpful for the embattled country.
SpaceX’s Starlink has provided Ukraine’s military with broadband communications in its defence against Russia’s military, but it was “never never meant to be weaponised,” Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer, was quoted by Reuters as saying during a conference in Washington, DC.
“However, Ukrainians have leveraged it in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement,” she reportedly said.
Speaking later with reporters, Shotwell apparently referred to reports that the Ukrainian military had used the Starlink service to control its drones.
Ukraine of course has made effective use of unmanned aircraft for spotting enemy positions, dropping bombs, and targeting long-range artillery strikes.
“There are things that we can do to limit their ability to do that,” Shotwell reportedly said, referring to Starlink’s use with drones. “There are things that we can do, and have done.”
Shotwell reportedly declined to say what measures SpaceX had taken.
However Shotwell said using Starlink with drones went beyond the scope of an agreement SpaceX has with the Ukrainian government.
She added that the contract was intended for humanitarian purposes such as providing broadband internet to hospitals, banks and families affected by Russia’s invasion.
“We know the military is using them for comms, and that’s ok,” she reportedly said. “But our intent was never to have them use it for offensive purposes.”
In early March 2022 as Russia invaded and marched on Kyiv, Musk activated SpaceX’s Starlink satellites for the country, to help Ukraine keep communicating, as Russia forces sought to cut electricity, water, and Internet in the sovereign nation.
SpaceX also privately shipped truckloads of Starlink terminals to Ukraine, but a security researcher then pointed out that Starlink terminals could be targetted by Russian missiles.
Musk then offered advice to reduce the risk of the terminals being targetted by Russian ordnance.
But then in October out of the blue, Elon Musk shared his thoughts on how to end Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Musk’s unsolicited ‘peace’ plan that touted terms far more amenable to Russia, than Ukraine and the West, immediately sparked a backlash from Ukrainian officials and the online community.
Even Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky took time out from overseeing the fight against Russia, to respond to Musk unsolicited opinions about the war with his own poll asking Twitter users which Musk people preferred – a Musk that supported Ukraine or a Musk that supported Russia.
Another Ukrainian official pointed out that Musk’s proposals was equal to seeking a compromise with a killer who had broken into your house, and wants to kill your family and burn your house down.
Later that same month Musk provoked even more outrage when he suggested that SpaceX would pull out of funding Starlink operations in Ukraine.
Musk said Starlink’s Ukrainian project is losing $20 million (£18m) a month.
A day later Musk changed his mind and said he would continue funding Starlink operations in Ukraine.
“The hell with it… Even though Starlink is still losing money & other companies are getting billions of taxpayer $, we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free,” Musk wrote on Twitter at the time.
Governments including the United States and France have paid for shipments of Starlink terminals on top of those funded privately by SpaceX.