Elon Musk’s Starlink is not the only option for Ukraine, says Pentagon


The Pentagon is talking to Elon Musk, who has threatened to stop funding Ukraine’s access to his Starlink system.

(Bloomberg) — The Pentagon confirmed it is talking to Elon Musk, who has threatened to stop funding Ukraine’s access to his Starlink satellite communications system, but pointedly added that the United States is also looking at other options.

“We are engaged in speaking with SpaceX,” the space exploration company owned by Musk, Defense Department spokeswoman Sabrina Singh told reporters on Friday. At the same time, she said, the US, Ukraine and their allies are also “evaluating our options” with other communications companies.

Musk, the world’s richest person, threatened on Friday to cut financial support for the Starlink high-speed broadband system that has become an essential communication tool as Ukraine fights Russia’s invasion. He said that SpaceX cannot bear the cost indefinitely. His move followed strong criticism from Kyiv over Musk’s public comments suggesting the government cede territory in exchange for peace with Russia.

In response to recent comments by a Ukrainian envoy that he should “fuck off” over his proposals, which included UN-supervised referendums in Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine, Musk responded on Twitter on Friday: “We are just following their recommendation.” .”

In addition to helping Ukraine’s forces on the ground, Starlink terminals have supported infrastructure across the country, and any move to remove them could hamper the progress of counteroffensives against Russian troops. It would also risk a backlash not only from Ukraine but also from its allies who have provided financial and military support for months with no strings attached.

SpaceX has an established relationship with the Pentagon, Singh noted, having won contracts for national security space launches.

SpaceX Correspondence

In a subsequent statement, he added: “We can confirm that the department received correspondence from SpaceX regarding the funding of Starlink, its satellite communications product in Ukraine. We remain in communication with SpaceX on this and other issues.” CNN reported that SpaceX has warned the Pentagon that it can no longer partially fund Starlink in Ukraine unless the US military provides tens of millions of dollars of support per month.

On Friday, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, tried to downplay the dispute. “Like it or not, @elonmusk helped us survive the most critical moments of the war,” he tweeted. Ukraine “will find a solution to keep #Starlink working. We expect the company to provide a stable connection until the end of the negotiations.”

There was no indication that Musk intended to take immediate action to remove Starlink from Ukraine. SpaceX is “not asking to recoup past expenses” on Starlink services in Ukraine, he said in another post, but it can’t sustain financial aid or send thousands more terminals to Ukraine.

Starlink terminals in Ukraine are using up to 100 times more data than typical homes, Musk said. A week ago he tweeted that Starlink in Ukraine had cost SpaceX $80 million, which would likely exceed $100 million by the end of the year. Musk’s net worth is $209.2 billion, according to data from Bloomberg.

Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s Minister of Digital Transformation, earlier said that the country is receiving Starlink terminals for free, though he added that there could be a different agreement between Musk and the US Agency for International Development and the European entities that provided Starlinks. to Ukraine.

Ukraine has 20,000 Starlink terminals, provided equally by USAID, Poland, the European Union and private companies, according to an Oct. 5 report by the state-run Ukrinform news agency, citing data from the Ministry of Digitization.

Poland bought 11,700 Starlink terminals for Ukraine, including 5,000 purchased by state-controlled refiner PKN Orlen SA, according to Janusz Cieszynski, the government official in charge of cybersecurity.

“SpaceX has promised to cover the cost of servicing the terminals purchased by Orlen,” he said by phone. Meanwhile, the Polish government is “covering the full cost of the service” for each terminal it purchased “in the amount of around $50 per month” per device.

Musk angered Ukrainians from Zelenskiy on down with his recent suggestion that Ukraine should seek a negotiated solution to Russia’s invasion and cede Crimea, which was annexed by Moscow in 2014, for good.

Musk also launched a Twitter poll asking citizens of the newly annexed occupied parts of eastern Ukraine and Crimea to decide whether they want to live in Russia or Ukraine, days after Ukraine, Europe and the United States denounced the country’s annexation moves. President Vladimir Putin.

Ian Bremmer, head of the political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, wrote in a note to clients this week that Musk told him about a recent conversation with Putin.

Bremmer said the conversation came before Musk posted his tweets urging Ukraine to find a negotiated solution to the war. Both Musk and the Kremlin later denied that he had spoken to Putin this year.

EXPLANATION: How Musk started a race to send satellites to ‘LEO’

(Updates with the Pentagon confirming correspondence with SpaceX in the eighth paragraph)

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