Elon Musk turned off Starlink to thwart Ukrainian attack on Russian ships, book says

SpaceX chief executive increasingly uncomfortable with role of satellite communications used in conflict

An antenna of the Starlink satellite-based broadband system donated by Elon Musk in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine.  AFP
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Excerpts from a coming biography of Elon Musk claimed the billionaire turned off his company SpaceX's Starlink satellite network over a specific location to thwart an attack on Russian ships last year.

CNN reported on Thursday that author Walter Isaacson wrote Ukrainian naval drones were headed for a surprise attack on Russia's Black Sea fleet near the Crimean coast when Mr Musk shut off satellite connectivity.

Isaacson said Mr Musk told him that the Ukrainian drones “lost connectivity and washed ashore harmlessly” because he was worried about a “mini-Pearl Harbour” event.

The Economist reported in March that Mr Musk had Starlink use “geo-fencing to block the use of its terminals – not only above Russian-occupied territory inside Ukraine, but also, according to a Ukrainian military intelligence source, over water and when the receiver is moving at speeds above 100kph”.

Starlink has proven to be an important factor in Russia's war since parts of Ukraine's electric and communications networks have been damaged.

Ukrainian troops depend on Starlink as a battlefield tool. Initially provided for free, the service now has Pentagon backing after Mr Musk publicly baulked at the cost.

But reports say Mr Musk has increasingly become uncomfortable with his role in the conflict.

The New Yorker in August reported that several western governments supporting Ukraine expressed concern that Mr Musk could withdraw or control Starlink service in the country dependent on the communications.

The article featured details of a situation where Ukrainian forces found they were unable to communicate through Starlink in contested areas – leading American and Ukrainian officials to believe Mr Musk had turned on geofencing.

Updated: September 07, 2023, 9:37 PM