Elon Musk says he can’t pay Ukraine’s Starlink after insults from diplomats

Kyiv, Ukraine — Elon Musk said Friday that his space company cannot continue to fund the Starlink satellite service that keeps Ukraine and its military online during the war, advising him after the Ukrainian ambassador insulted him on Twitter Turning off free internet.

Disruption of Starlink would cripple the Ukrainian military’s main means of communication and potentially weaken its defenses by giving Russia a major advantage, which is trying to jam signals and phone services in the eastern and southern theaters.

Musk, the world’s richest man by Bloomberg estimates, tweeted in the US that his company SpaceX does not want to pay back for helping Ukraine in the past. But, he tweeted, it “nor can’t fund the existing system indefinitely, nor can it send out thousands more terminals that use up to 100 times the data usage of the average household. That’s unreasonable.” .”

He also mocked Andrij Melnyk, Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany. There are some options for Musk Last week, Tesla’s chief executive tweeted a proposal to end the war in Ukraine in favor of Russia.

“F—off is my very diplomatic reply to you @elonmusk,” Melnyk said at the time.

“We’re just following his advice,” Musk tweeted earlier Friday. The ambassador declined to comment on Friday, while his press representative told The Washington Post that his previous comments were a specific response to Musk’s tweets about the peace talks.

While SpaceX sometimes describes Ukraine’s Starlink service as an entirely philanthropic endeavor, it doesn’t actually describe the full cost. The Washington Post reported in April that the U.S. government quietly paid SpaceX millions of dollars for equipment and transportation.

Starlink, a division of SpaceX, uses terminals equipped with antennas, often mounted on rooftops, to access the internet via satellite in rural or disconnected areas.

Ukrainian troops have been using it to livestream drone signals, correct artillery fire and connect domestically since Musk began sending the terminal early in the war, as Ukraine faced the threat of internet outages from Russian strikes and cyberattacks. A Ukrainian commander said Friday that “a battle without Starlink services on the front lines is like a battle without guns.”

Elon Musk’s Starlink keeps Ukrainians online when traditional internet fails

Ukraine has received thousands of antennas from Musk’s company and European allies. The country’s digital transformation minister, Mykhailo Fedorov, told The Washington Post in March that the system has proven “very effective.”

The White House raised questions about Musk’s transfer to the Pentagon. But senior U.S. officials emphasized the continued importance of Starlink to facilitate Ukrainian command and control operations on the battlefield.

From tweets from Taiwan to rap star Ye, Musk’s comments have sparked concerns about what he could do with Twitter if he owned the platform.

Musk tweeted last month that he would ask for a waiver of sanctions on Iran to allow Starlink to assist the Biden administration’s efforts to help circumvent the Iranian government’s efforts to shut down the internet amid nationwide protests against the civilian regime. attempt. The U.S. Treasury Department has invited such applications from the private technology sector.

Musk’s Twitter diplomacy came under scrutiny earlier this month when he announced his proposal, a four-point plan that would help the Kremlin lock in territorial gains and include Ukraine dropping its commitment to the Crimea. Russia invaded and illegally annexed Crimea in 2014.

In a more diplomatic attack on the billionaire’s Twitter peace attempts, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted a poll asking his followers which they prefer Elon Musk: ‘Pro-Ukraine’ or ‘Pro-Russian’. There were more than 2.4 million responses, of which 78.8% chose to support Musk in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s ambassador to Berlin doesn’t care if he’s offended by his cause

Ahead of the peacekeeping operation and related tweets that sparked an online storm, SpaceX had already warned the U.S. Department of Defense in a Sept. 2 letter that it could no longer fund Ukraine’s Starlink system. CNN first reported on Thursday, Aug. 8.

The letter asks the Pentagon to pay for a new Ukrainian request and the remainder of the year, the report said, acknowledging that others, including Kyiv allies, have helped finance the terminals so far.

Late Thursday, a senior U.S. defense official confirmed that Musk had privately urged the Pentagon to pay. No comparable system has such broad applicability, the official said. Because of the sensitivity of the issue, the bill could reach hundreds of millions of dollars next year, the official said, requesting anonymity.

The official described it as a scenario where Musk “hangs his hopes on the heads of millions and then bills the Department of Defense for a system that no one asked for but so many now rely on.”

“Elon will be Elon,” the official added.

Another senior defense official, Brigadier General of the Air Force. Pentagon press secretary Patrick Ryder said Friday that the Defense Department “continues to work with industry to explore solutions for Ukraine’s armed forces.”

“We have nothing else to add at this time,” he said in a statement.

Musk said Friday that the Starlink operation in Ukraine has cost SpaceX $80 million and will reach $100 million by the end of the year, which includes providing terminals, maintaining satellites and ground stations, and other costs. “We must also defend against increasingly difficult cyber-attacks and interference,” he wrote.

Elon Musk tweeted about Ukraine’s “peace plan”. Chaos ensues.

The Ukrainian military has come to rely on Starlink to quickly share information with senior commanders. Roman Kovalenko, commander of the 72nd Mechanized Brigade, who operates on the front lines in the eastern Donetsk region, said troops now use radios less because they are less reliable.

“Honestly, I don’t know what our communications would be like without any Starlink service,” he said.

Satellite internet is particularly helpful for the Ukrainian military to expand the use of drones. With a stable connection, aerial reconnaissance units can observe their drone feeds, allowing artillery units to identify targets and correct their fire in real time. Before that, the infantry in the trenches had to locate their own shelling, which was inefficient and put them at risk, Kovalenko said.

“I would say that without Starlink, our productivity would drop by 60 percent or more,” Kovalenko said. “And we’re going to have to use more ammo, which we’re saving now.”

He and others said they had experienced some power outages near the front lines in recent weeks, but a soldier in the air reconnaissance unit called them “insignificant.” Another drone unit in the southern Kherson region was only able to work a short distance on recently reclaimed territory until its Starlink ceased operations.

A 25-year-old junior sergeant using the callsign Vognyk said the Ukrainian army and volunteers would pay for their services if necessary. “In my opinion, it’s his right, his property,” he said of Musk. “We would like to thank him for the amount of Starlink he provided to Ukraine.”

After the Ukrainian army recaptured the city of Izyum in the northeastern Kharkiv region in recent weeks, residents gathered around a Starlink system that was brought in so they could get some connectivity until mobile networks were restored there.

In his brigade, Kovalenko said, soldiers regularly visited his positions, used his Starlink connection to the internet, and sent a brief message to their families telling them they were alive and well.

“I hope that even if the situation cannot be formally resolved, our volunteers will be able to raise the funds needed to pay for this service,” he said. “We desperately need Starlink.”

Francis reported from London and La Motte from Washington. Karen DeYoung in Washington and Kamila Hrabchuk in Kyiv contributed to this report.

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