Elon Musk’s Starlink has been providing satellite internet connectivity to Ukraine as it fends off a Russian invasion, and a new biography of the tech titan features new details about the extent to which he’s been using the company to meddle in the war.
Musk in 2022 secretly ordered his engineers to turn off Starlink’s connectivity along the Crimean coast in order to thwart a Ukrainian attack on Russia’s naval fleet, according to an excerpt of Walter Isaacson’s long-anticipated Elon Musk obtained by CNN. Musk made the decision out of a fear that the attack would lead Russia to retaliate with nuclear weapons, according to Isaacson.
The Ukrainian subs rigged to blow up the Russian ships “lost connectivity and washed ashore harmlessly” after Musk disconnected their service, Isaacson writes.
Musk agreed to let Ukraine use Starlink soon after Russia invaded in early 2022, and Isaacson’s book describes how conflicted he was that his company’s technology was being used to launch attacks. “How am I in this war?” Musk told Isaacson. “Starlink was not meant to be involved in wars. It was so people can watch Netflix and chill and get online for school and do good peaceful things, not drone strikes.”
Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker reported last month on Musk’s unease over Starlink’s role in the war, as well as the U.S. government’s efforts to manage the whims of the eccentric billionaire. Farrow spoke to a Ukrainian soldier, who recounted another instance in which an offensive was stymied because of lost connectivity. “We were very close to the front line,” the soldier said. “We crossed this border and the Starlink stopped working.” He added: “Communications became dead, units were isolated. When you’re on offense, especially for commanders, you need a constant stream of information from battalions. Commanders had to drive to the battlefield to be in radio range, risking themselves. It was chaos.”
Farrow also wrote about how Musk has appeared to express support for Vladimir Putin, reporting that he told U.S. officials that he spoke with the Russian president personally.
It’s unclear what exactly is informing Musk’s approach to the war, but it’s become apparent since he took over Twitter (now X) that he’s been listening to the advice of an array of right-wing influencers. One such influencer with whom Musk regularly interacts, Ian Miles Cheong, is a contributor to the Russian propaganda network RT. Last October, Cheong advised Musk to take Starlink offline along the front lines.
“Might be a good idea to take Starlink offline for the terminals used on the frontlines,” Cheong wrote in response to Musk wondering what he could do to de-escalate the conflict. “Could encourage them to reconsider their position on advancing towards Crimea and leading the world further into the brink of total war.”