Kremlin denies Ukraine claim that Elon Musk’s Starlink is being used by Russian troops in occupied territories
Both Elon Musk and the Kremlin have responded to claims that Russian troops in the occupied territories in Ukraine are using SpaceX’s Starlink systems.
On Sunday Kyiv’s Main Directorate of Intelligence (GUR) claimed there was mounting evidence of the Starlink equipment being used by Russian forces in the partially occupied eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk.
Soon after Russian invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Elon Musk’s SpaceX had activated its Starlink satellites over the country.
Over 25,000 Starlink satellite internet terminals were also donated to Ukraine.
But on Sunday Ukraine alleged that Russian units were using Starlink satellite communications systems at the front line.
“Radio intercepts of the invaders’ conversations indicate that Starlink terminals were installed, for example, in units of the 83rd separate air assault brigade of the russian armed forces in order to establish Internet access,” the GUR stated.
“The occupation troops of the 83rd air assault brigade of terrorist russia are operating in Donetsk region near Klishchiyivka and Andriyivka,” it added.
Andrii Yusov, a representative of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine, stated in a comment for RBC-Ukraine that the scale of using of Starlink terminals by russians in the war is growing.
“Yes, it’s true. Cases of using of the mentioned devices by russian occupants have been recorded. This is starting to become systemic,” he said.
Ukraine’s GUR agency also said it had intercepted an exchange between two soldiers discussing setting up the terminals.
It posted what it said was an audio clip of the exchange on Telegram by way of evidence.
Starlink, Moscow denial
Starlink meanwhile said it does not do business of any kind with Russia’s government or military.
However a user on Twitter pointed out that the allegation is about the Russia-occupied Ukrainian territory not Russia.
SpaceX does not do business of any kind with the Russian Government or its military.
Starlink is not active in Russia, meaning service will not work in that country. SpaceX has never sold or marketed Starlink in Russia, nor has it shipped equipment to locations in Russia. If…
— Starlink (@Starlink) February 8, 2024
The Kremlin meanwhile was also quoted by Reuters on Monday as saying that the Starlink satellite internet system was neither certified for use in, nor officially supplied to, Russia, and therefore could not be used.
In a call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reportedly said: “This is not a certified system with us; accordingly, it cannot be officially supplied here and is not officially supplied. Accordingly, it cannot be used officially in any way.”
“That is why here, perhaps, we should not intrude into the discussion between the Kyiv regime and the entrepreneur Musk”, he reportedly said, referring to the Ukrainian government.
Elon Musk was quick to deny that SpaceX was selling Starlink terminals to Russia, in a post on X (formerly Twitter).
“A number of false news reports claim that SpaceX is selling Starlink terminals to Russia,” Musk tweeted. “This is categorically false.”
“To the best of our knowledge, no Starlinks have been sold directly or indirectly to Russia,” he added.
A number of false news reports claim that SpaceX is selling Starlink terminals to Russia.
This is categorically false.
To the best of our knowledge, no Starlinks have been sold directly or indirectly to Russia.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 11, 2024
It should be noted that neither Musk nor Starlink revealed any proactive efforts to prevent Russian forces from obtaining terminals or connecting to Starlink.
Both Musk and Starlink also did not say whether specific Ukrainian claims are being investigated.
It is understood that Starlink terminals are supposed to be “geofenced” so they do not function in unauthorised locations.
However there is concern that Russian forces may be able to “spoof” the geofence to make a terminal in a blocked area appear as if it is in a permitted area.
Musk and Ukraine
Musk has an uneasy relationship with Ukraine, after a number of contentious interventions in the war.
Musk was heavily criticised when he suggested that Ukraine could “de-escalate” the conflict by ceding Crimea to Russia and allow Russia to carry out referendums in partially occupied areas in order to annex those territories.
Musk was also criticised over allegations that he had intervened to foil a Ukrainian attack on Russian warships that would have utilised Starlink.
In October 2022 Musk said he would continue funding Starlink operations in Ukraine, a day after saying he was prepared to pull the plug, saying that SpaceX could not fund the existing system in Ukraine indefinitely.