By: Ethan Erickson Edited By: Shane Masterson October 30, 2023
Walter Isacson, author of a recent biography on tech billionaire Elon Musk, made headlines recently by making a bold accusation: Musk turned off the internet connection of the Ukrainian military after they launched an attack on Russia’s navy in March of 2022. Ukraine has been relying on Musk’s Starlink, which provides satellite internet service, for much of the conflict. It has proved useful in providing effective digital communication in lieu of radio or other alternatives.
According to Isacson’s excerpt, Musk made the decision after communication with the Russian ambassador to the United States who said that such a Ukrainian attack would merit nuclear war.
However, Musk claims that Starlink was never turned on in Crimea, the region where the assault was supposed to take place. In a later response, Isacson walked back his claim, instead claiming that Musk simply declined to turn it on upon request by the Ukrainian government. Musk agreed, saying that “SpaceX would be explicitly complicit in a major act of war and conflict escalation.” At another point, he said the Ukrainian attack could have been a “mini Pearl Harbor and led to a major escalation,” which he apparently wanted no part of. This is in accordance with SpaceX’s long-standing policy on conflict – that the systems are to be used for civilian access and defense, not offensive military operations.
Regardless, one of Zelensky’s advisers, Mykhailo Podolyak, slammed Musk, claiming that he was now directly responsible for the death of Ukrainian civilians and children who were killed by missiles fired from the unharmed Russian fleet.
The entire controversy has raised questions about regulation of Musk’s activities and what role the United States Department of Defense will have moving forward. Some argue that the government should rein in Musk’s significant influence, while others say that Musk should be allowed to run his company as he sees fit.
The Pentagon is also involved, as a contract was signed in June to pay for SpaceX to continue providing Starlink to Ukraine after Musk said costs were getting too high. Such an intermingling of government and private industry – while certainly a help to Ukraine – will be an important thing to monitor going into the future.