December 10, 2022

Elon Musk stirs up more geopolitical controversy with Ukraine's cyber conflict

Elon Musk stirs up more geopolitical controversy with Ukraine’s cyber conflict

Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, Elon Musk Giving Ukrainians a digital lifeline by providing them with Starlink internet service operated by his rocket company, SpaceX.

But the measures prompted the world’s richest man into international controversy on Friday when Mr Musk said his company could not “indefinitely” fund Ukraine’s use of Starlink, which has become Important For the communications of the Ukrainian army as it advances into the territories occupied by Russia and for defense against constant Russian attacks.

Mr. Musk made his comments on Twitter after CNN reported it SpaceX sent a message to the Pentagon Last month I asked her to take over funding for Ukraine’s use of Starlink. About 20,000 Starlink stations, which are designed to work with orbiting satellites to provide online access, have been delivered to Ukraine since the Russian invasion in February. Mr. Musk, who did not mention the Pentagon, spoke about difficulties funding the service.

“SpaceX does not require reimbursement of past expenses, but it also cannot fund the current system indefinitely *and* send several thousand terminals that have data usage up to 100 times greater than typical households,” Wrote.

The situation, which sparked a protest over how Ukrainian forces were being held back, was another controversy sparked by Mr. Musk, 51, who has become an unexpected provocateur in international geopolitics. The billionaire, who oversees electric car maker Tesla and other companies, is already engaged in public outcry on many other fronts, including He will not do a $44 billion deal To buy the social networking service Twitter.

Last week, Mr. Musk delivered a fierce reprimand from Ukrainian officials to propose a peace plan – which included ceding territory to Russia – to end the war. He also noted in an interview with the Financial Times that tensions between China and Taiwan could be resolved by handing over some control of Taiwan to Beijing.

“Elon Musk has always been a risk factor,” said Xiaoming Lu, director of Eurasia Group, a Washington-based policy advisory and research group. Ukraine is playing with fire.

SpaceX and Mr. Musk did not respond to requests for comment.

In a tweet on Friday, Mikhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, struck a conciliatory tone with Mr. Musk, saying he had helped the country “survive the most dangerous moments of war”.

Mr. Musk revealed that SpaceX was developing the Starlink service in 2015 to provide Internet access to individuals and businesses. The company now provides Starlink services in 40 countries. In the US, service fees range from $100 to $500 per month per station; The stations themselves cost an additional $600. Since the service is provided by thousands of satellites that cannot be easily destroyed in space, it is more difficult to disrupt compared to traditional Internet services, making it ideally suited for use during wartime.

Mr. Musk’s involvement in the Russian invasion of Ukraine dates back to when Mikhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, tweeted a message to him in February. Mr. Fedorov Request assistance in obtaining Starlink stations So Ukrainians can stay online even if Russia damages the country’s main telecommunications infrastructure.

Mr. Musk responded quickly, and a shipment of Starlink equipment arrived in Ukraine two days later. Mr. Zelensky thanked the billionaire and said the service would help maintain communications in cities under attack from Russians.

The nearly 20,000 terminals now in use in Ukraine are being paid for by SpaceX, at least three Western governments and other allies, according to a SpaceX document shared with the New York Times. About 4,000 of the terminals are used by the Ukrainian military, according to a message the military sent to SpaceX and shared with The Times. Mr. Musk said SpaceX has waived the monthly fee for the service.

But by April, Mr. Musk made it clear that his help would only go so far. On Twitter, he said it as “Absolute freedom of expressionStarlink will not be used to prevent Russian state media from spreading propaganda and disinformation about the war in Ukraine.

Last week, Musk said the operation in Ukraine had cost SpaceX $80 million so far. He added on Friday that the “burn-in” for the project, which refers to the money that SpaceX spent over and over, was about $20 million a month.

“In addition to terminals, we have to create, launch, maintain and renew satellites and ground stations,” he tweeted. “We also had to defend against cyberattacks and jamming, which are getting more and more difficult.”

Any withdrawal from Starlink would be a blow to the Ukrainian military, which has relied on internet communication equipment, especially given the Russian military’s ability to jam communications and leave parts of Ukrainian territory without power. The Ukrainian military has used the Starlink system, which troops say the Russians have been unable to breach, for everything from calling in artillery support to sending messages to loved ones at home.

Starlink terminals contain a small rectangular antenna that can be powered from car batteries. Ukrainian soldiers at the front figured out how to camouflage the device by digging it into the ground so that the stations are protected from bombing but can still receive and transmit data.

In July, Ukrainian General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi sent a letter to SpaceX and Mr. Musk, ordering an additional 6,700 Starlink stations.

“Starlink terminals have the ability to configure the underlying infrastructure layer that underlies the majority of communications along the chain of command,” the message shared with The Times read. The army did not receive the units.

In mid-September, Ukraine launched a counterattack and advanced into an area in the south formerly occupied by Russia. Three people familiar with the matter said the Ukrainian military has lost access to Starlink service in some areas near the front lines. Someone said service was restored in key places.

Days after the start of the Ukrainian counterattack, a Russian delegation to the United Nations suggested that Starlink satellites could do so become a military target. On Twitter, Mr. Musk insisted that Starlink was for peaceful use only.

Then Mr. Musk began promoting his proposed plan for peace between Russia and Ukraine. He called on Ukraine to accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and to agree to new referendums in Russian-occupied Ukraine that would allow the population to choose who should control those territories. He created a Twitter poll asking if the “will of the people” in the occupied territories should decide whether they were part of Ukraine or Russia.

Mr. Zelensky posted his own poll on Twitter, asking: “Which Elon Musk do you prefer: someone who supports Ukraine, or someone who supports Russia?”

Mr. Musk responded with a tweet, “I continue to strongly support Ukraine, but I am convinced that the massive escalation of war will cause great harm to Ukraine and possibly the world.”

The Kremlin praised Mr. Musk’s proposal.

Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, “It is very positive that someone like Elon Musk is trying to find a peaceful settlement” He said. “As for referendums, people have expressed their opinions, and there can be nothing else.”

On Friday, Pentagon officials said discussions had taken place about how to help the Ukrainian military stay online during the war. One official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Defense Department officials hoped that Mr. Musk and Ukrainian officials could find a way forward, but added that the possibility of the Pentagon billing Starlink’s service in Ukraine was not outside the law. the question.

The Pentagon press secretary, Brigadier General Pat Ryder said in an email. “We don’t have anything else to add at the moment.”

Ms Lu of Eurasia Group said Ukraine may have had few options other than maintaining a cordial relationship with Mr. Musk due to his control of Starlink. Mr. Musk owns 44 percent of SpaceX, which is a private company.

“Even if they are not happy with the situation, they have to deal with it, because they are so dependent on technology,” Ms Lu said.

Contribute to reporting Adam SatarianoAnd the Julian BarnesAnd the Michael Schwartz And the Thomas Gibbons Neff.