Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, has come under fire when it was discovered that he had given the order to shut down Starlink’s satellite network over Crimea in order to stop an attack by the Ukrainian military on Russian warships. This information was obtained from a forthcoming biography of Elon Musk by Walter Isaacson.
During an interview for the biography, Musk expressed his concern about being involved in the conflict, asking, “How am I in this war?” Musk initially provided Starlink terminals to Ukraine as a means to offer internet connectivity for peaceful purposes such as education and entertainment, not for military actions.
Musk’s decision to halt Starlink services in the region has drawn strong criticism from Ukrainian officials. Mykhailo Podolyak, an aide to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, accused Musk of allowing Russian warships to attack Ukrainian cities by interfering with Starlink, resulting in civilian casualties. He called Musk’s actions a “cocktail of ignorance and big ego.”
The background of this controversy lies in the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia, with Crimea being a focal point. Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 has led to ongoing tensions in the region. In February 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, leading to a devastating naval blockade and missile strikes on Ukrainian coastal cities.
Starlink, part of Musk’s SpaceX enterprise, has been instrumental in providing crucial battlefield communications in Ukraine. The network consists of over 4,000 satellites serving more than 50 countries.
According to the book, Musk’s choice was not taken lightly and was even discussed over the phone with top American officials, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan for President Joe Biden.
Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s digital minister, tweeted that Starlink had arrived in his country and included a picture of several boxes filled with Starlink gear. Fedorov had earlier asked Musk for help on Twitter. According to reports, he had requested that Musk turn on Starlink’s connectivity so that Ukrainian underwater drones could attack the Russian battleship fleet, but Musk turned him down out of concern that such a move would significantly escalate the situation.
In Musk’s view, allowing the Ukrainian attacks on the Russian fleet to proceed would have resembled a “mini Pearl Harbor” and could have triggered a major escalation. Musk’s decision highlights the complex moral and ethical considerations that arise when technology is used in wartime scenarios, raising questions about the responsibilities of tech companies and their leaders in such situations.