Elon Musk casts doubt on future of Ukraine's Starlink internet

Billionaire says his SpaceX company is burning almost $20 million a month on satellite system

Elon Musk said SpaceX could not indefinitely defend against cyber-attacks and jamming. Reuters
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Billionaire Elon Musk said on Friday that his space company could not afford to provide Ukraine with satellite internet indefinitely.

Mr Musk’s warning that SpaceX was losing almost $20 million a month on the project comes after he clashed with Ukrainian diplomats over a potential peace deal with Russia.

He appeared to confirm a report by CNN that SpaceX was seeking funding from the US military to keep the Starlink satellite system in place.

Any disruption to Starlink would be a blow to Ukraine’s defences after it was credited with keeping energy and communications networks afloat and foiling Russian jammers.

Mr Musk, whose fortune is estimated at $219 billion, was praised for making the Starlink system available to Ukraine in the early stages of the war.

But his relations with Ukraine were strained after Mr Musk put forward a ceasefire proposal that would involve ceding annexed Crimea, and potentially other parts of Ukraine, to Russia.

Referring to a Ukrainian diplomat who brusquely told Mr Musk where to go with his peace plan, the billionaire said on Friday: “We’re just following his recommendation.”

Mr Musk said the cost of managing satellites and ground stations and defending against cyber attacks and jamming was becoming unsustainable.

“SpaceX is not asking to recoup past expenses, but also cannot fund the existing system indefinitely and send several thousand more terminals that have data usage up to 100 times greater than typical households. This is unreasonable,” he said.

Ukraine said this week that Starlink had helped to restore connections in areas hit by Russian bombardment.

Kyiv was rocked by missile attacks for the first time in months as Russia hit back after an explosion on a key Crimean bridge.

A group of SpaceX's Starlink satellites passing through the night sky over South America. AFP

Russia claimed on Thursday to have caught Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba admitting that Ukraine was behind attacks in Crimea, a subject on which Kyiv has remained coy.

Pro-Kremlin media said Mr Kuleba had been duped into a “frank confession” by pranksters posing as an American diplomat, although it was not clear when the footage was taken.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, meanwhile, used a public holiday in Ukraine, known as the Day of Defenders, to issue a rallying cry after almost eight months of war.

“I know that you are bringing victory closer as much as you can, and we will do everything to speed it up,” he said in a tribute to Ukraine’s troops.

“The world stands with us. More than ever in our history. This in particular makes us stronger than ever in our history.”

A British intelligence update on Friday said Russian forces had made some advances in the eastern Donetsk region, one of the areas purportedly annexed by Russia.

It said the private military company Wagner had achieved some localised gains in eastern Ukraine after being drafted in to aid Russian troops.

Ukraine meanwhile claimed that Russia had lost another 500 soldiers, 10 tanks and scores of artillery systems in the last day’s fighting.

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Updated: October 14, 2022, 3:22 PM