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Musk Says He Is Restricting Use of Starlink in Ukraine to Avoid Sparking World War III

Published: February 13, 2023
Local residents use the internet from the Starlink network, set up by the Ukrainian army on Nov. 12, 2022 in Kherson, Ukraine. (Image: Andrii Dubchak/Donbas Frontliner via Zaborona/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)

Elon Musk tweeted late Sunday that his company SpaceX is restricting the use of its Starlink internet technology in Ukraine for drone control so as not to “enable [an] escalation of conflict that may lead to WW3.” 

Musk made the comment while responding to a request from a former NASA astronaut, Scott Kelly, who asked for Musk to restore full access to the internet for Ukrainian forces. 

“Starlink is the communication backbone of Ukraine, especially at the front lines, where almost all other internet connectivity has been destroyed. But we will not enable escalation of conflict that may lead to WW3,” Musk Tweeted.

Musk also took the opportunity to lash out at the mainstream media telling Kelly, “You’re smart enough not to swallow media & other propaganda bs.”

Ukraine has been relying on Musk’s Starlink technology to keep the country online after much of its infrastructure was destroyed due to the war, however SpaceX is now raising the alarm after its technology was used to control Ukrainian drones.

Last week, Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president, said the technology was “never meant to be weaponized,” and said the company has taken measures to restrict its use in this manner but stopped short of saying exactly what those measures were. 

“Ukrainians have leveraged it in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement,” Shotwell said according to Politico

SpaceX’s stance has irked Ukrainian authorities with presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeting that companies need to decide if they are “on the side of Ukraine and the right to freedom” or if they support Russian aggression.  

Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s Digital Transformation Minister, told POLITICO that, so far, there has been “no problems” with Musk’s tech and said that Starlink terminals are “save[ing] thousands of lives daily.”

In another Feb. 12 tweet, Musk said that the technology is intended for “private use, not military” and said that SpaceX has the right to turn off the service if the company thinks it is being used for unintended purposes. 

“SpaceX commercial terminals, like other commercial products, are meant for private use, not military, but we have not exercised our right to turn them off,” he said, adding that, “We’re trying hard to do the right thing, where the ‘right thing’ is an extremely difficult moral question.” 

In Oct. last year, Musk took to Twitter to vent his frustrations over the millions of dollars it’s costing his company to keep Ukraine online. 

“To hell with it …  even though Starlink is still losing money & other companies are getting billions of taxpayer $, we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free,” he tweeted.

In a subsequent Tweet Musk said, “SpaceX is not asking to recoup past expenses, but also cannot fund the existing system indefinitely.”

According to Musk, it’s costing around $20 million per month to maintain and operate the Starlink internet service in Ukraine and that SpaceX had already spent $80 million to keep Ukraine online, however this was in October last year and the costs may already exceed upwards of $160 million to date or more.