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A new report highlights how Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites have been crucial in the Ukraine war.
Since the outset of the war, Musk has provided Starlink satellites to Ukrainian troops — with some caveats.
According to The New Yorker, Musk is treated like an “unelected official” by government officials.
Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite system, used by Ukrainian troops, has put the US in a delicate position of relying on one billionaire’s good spirits for a key communication aspect of ongoing war.
Federal officials from the Department of Defense and other agencies spoke to The New Yorker on condition of anonymity, claiming that Musk’s influence weighs on government decisions around space, Ukraine, social media, and electric vehicles.
Musk’s Starlink has played such a central role in providing communications to Ukrainian troops that federal officials have tried not to upset Musk, in hopes of not jeopardizing Starlink’s service in Ukraine, according to The New Yorker.
Musk did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment.
On the battlefield, Ukrainian troops dealt with a Starlink outage in late October 2022, according to CNN, in part because Musk had been providing the equipment for free and was seeking federal funding — an arrangement he had tweeted about in frustration.
The outage spurred chaos amid Ukrainian forces and US defense officials, who worried that Musk could pull the plug again whenever his outlook changed, per The New Yorker. Musk also wavered over the idea that his technology was being used in a war, which did not sit well with him, according to the report.
According to The New Yorker, Musk is treated like an “unelected official.”
Days after Russia declared war on Ukraine in February 2022, Musk’s SpaceX provided Starlink satellites and terminals to Ukraine, which helps maintain internet access across Ukraine, critically for troops in battle.
In September 2022, Musk asked the Pentagon to fund Starlink’s ventures in Ukraine, saying that the equipment could cost $100 million by the end of 2022.
Musk’s views on Ukraine also appeared to shift in October 2022, per The New Yorker, as he launched a Twitter poll touting a peace plan for Ukraine that pushed Kremlin talking points.
“SpaceX’s out of pocket cost to enable & support Starlink in Ukraine is ~$80M so far. Our support for Russia is $0. Obviously, we are pro Ukraine,” Musk tweeted after the poll. “Trying to retake Crimea will cause massive death, probably fail & risk nuclear war. This would be terrible for Ukraine & Earth.”
The federal officials who spoke to The New Yorker claimed that their current arrangement has relied on Musk’s satisfaction with affairs.
“Living in the world we live in, in which Elon runs this company and it is a private business under his control, we are living off his good graces,” a Pentagon official told The New Yorker under the condition of anonymity. “That sucks.”
The Department of Defense did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment.
Ultimately, in June 2023, the US government and Starlink inked a contract related to communications in Ukraine, with no public details, per Reuters.