What Happened With Elon, Starlink and Ukraine Was an Unreasonable Request

Walter Isaacson explains how in the early stages of Russia’s war with Ukraine, Russia knocked out a lot of communications and internet access. Elon and SpaceX have provided 20,000 Starlink terminals which were vital for sustaining Ukraine’s economy and critical communication in the company.

Lauren Dreyer, SpaceX’s director of Starlink operations, began sending Musk updates twice a day. “Starlink kits are already allowing Ukraine Armed Forces to continue operating theater command centers,” she wrote on March 1. “These kits can be life or death, as the opponent is now focusing heavily on comms infrastructure. They are asking for more.” In February and March of 2022 there were about 2500 Starlink units sent to Ukraine.

Unlike every other satellite service, they were able to find ways to defeat Russian jamming. By March 6, the company was providing voice connections for a Ukrainian special operations brigade. Starlink kits were also used to connect the Ukrainian military to the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command and to get Ukrainian television broadcasts back up. Within days, 6,000 more terminals and dishes were shipped, and by July there were 15,000 Starlink terminals operating in Ukraine.

Elon indicated that Ukraine had an emergency request to activate Starlink in Sevastopol.

Sevastopol is the largest city in Crimea and a major port on the Black Sea. Due to its strategic location and the navigability of the city’s harbors, Sevastopol has been an important port and naval base throughout its history. Since the city’s founding in 1783 it has been a major base for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

Ukraine wanted to use weapons that would destroy Russia’s Black Sea fleet while it was in still anchored in the port.

Elon chose not to activate the Starlink service in Sevastopol because of concerns that such attacks could trigger a Russian nuclear response or World War 3.

Nextbigfuture notes that the US military has global satellite communications and there are many other providers of global satellite communications. If this was a priority for the US military to support Ukraine, then there were other means to provide unjammed satellite communications for weapons or for an attack. Starlink was not the only option for some communication. The fact that SpaceX could avoid jamming is something that the US military could have helped Iridium or other satellite communication providers.

According to CNN, the phone used by the two Ukrainian leaders in 2022 to evade Russian tracking and cyber attacks could be an Iridium 9575 A, which is commonly used in the White House and whose network consists of 66 satellites located some 780 kilometers above the earth’s surface.

In September, the Ukrainian military was attempting a sneak attack on the Russian naval fleet based at Sevastopol in Crimea by sending six small drone submarines packed with explosives, and it was using Starlink to guide them to the target.

There are several points:
The US and UK militaries have the means to provide guidance to drone submarines.

Also, there is no guarantee that the drone submarine attack with Starlink enabled would have succeeded.

It is insane to have the logic that because Elon and SpaceX had provide tens and possibly hundreds of millions of support that they were obligated to give more. This is like saying that Boeing, Lockheed or Grumman were part of supplying F16s and so now they have to provide F-35s. It is just that the CEOs of those military contractors would not take a direct phone call from Ukraine to get an emergency request. They would have the requests go through military and spy agency and political channels.

19 thoughts on “What Happened With Elon, Starlink and Ukraine Was an Unreasonable Request”

  1. I guess this is another example of how the west is not giving Ukraine sufficient means to win, just enough to sustain the fight.

    How is Ukraine going to win if they cannot ever launch an offensive attack with western technology? Always retreating gloriously, or is the idea that Ukraine should pour more men and standard equipment into the fight than Russia? And why no fighter planes to Ukraine?

  2. I’d like to add that Musk absolutely had an obligation to give more Starlink dishes. He gave a vital tool unlike any other that was deployed widely and benefited Ukraine. To establish that infrastructure and then take it away is immoral and costs lives. The F-35 analogy was nonsense to me.

  3. Just a matter of time before Ukraine collapses. It’s leaders failed in their primary job to protect the citizens. Negotiating peace and neutrality in 03/2022 would have been the wise action of a legitimate government.
    Instead, ukranian puppet leaders carried on at the behest of their western owners, trusted the CIA and State Department for Chrissake, and now the country (actually a Russian province) is now an evacuated empty shell…. death, abandonment, and rubble. To claim westerners care more for the Ukrainian people than the Russians betrays ignorance.

    Musk didn’t want a lot of blood on his hands. Surely the US Government forced him to help with threats… It took him a while to unwind that, and he did.

    Tragedy all around. Shame on those that encourage continuation of this conflict.

  4. This is an okay case for Musk’s side of the story but the only thing that is utter hooey is the idea that even Musk still takes Russian threats of nuclear war seriously. They threaten nuclear war every time their “Tasty Period” burgers are served cold. Maybe it is a ruse to make Russians think they can still sort of trust Musk and have more “excellent conversations” with Putin which can provide insight into what the Kremlin is “thinking”. Either that or Musk actually takes Russian propaganda channels seriously.

  5. I understand Musk’s impulse.
    Though I have absolutely no control over the situation, I was also advocating for a more even-handed approach in the early days of the war, and way before that, including a compromise over the seized Crimean peninsula from 2014: https://www.opednews.com/articles/Is-it-possible-to-still-be-by-Scott-Baker-Russia_Russia-Ukraine_Russia-Ukraine-War_Russia-ukraine-War-220411-316.html
    The instability of Ukraine during its purging of the Russia-supported president and administration in 2014, encouraged by the U.S., seemed to me, and probably Putin, as a bigger threat to the region and especially the Sevastopol port. Sevastopol is Russia’s deepest military port on the Black Sea and has all sorts of weapons, possibly nuclear too, that could have posed a direct threat to Russia and the entire region if they’d fallen into the hands of the ill-defined rebel Ukraine forces. At the least, those forces could have cut off and laid siege to Sevastopol and Crimea (Ukraine did cut off the water supply from the mainland, but Russia found a partial workaround to that over time).
    But Russia escalated the low level war into the world’s largest, so now TPTB have to reassess, including Musk, like it or not. I’m glad I don’t have to make such decisions, but far less sanguine over those that do.

  6. Is it wrong to think Elon wants people to vote for a party and presidential candidate that would pull the US out of the Kyoto protocol and bring back a fossil fuel driven economy? Bury climate science (e.g. as it happened under Trump at the EPA) and basically drive us max speed into a 3-4C global temp rise?

    What Elon does with his left hand with Tesla, he would undo with his right in pushing for a Republican governance. How can anyone take him seriously in terms of alignment with science and caring for the planet??

    • When your side starts pushing for solutions that a) are effective to their stated goals, b) are not self defeating to their stated purpose, and c) do not claim a moral obligation to trust scientific and political authorities with clear conflicts of interest, and the deep, lasting, and personal impact of policies set at a very high level and several degrees of separation removed from my actual vote, with no involvement from local authorities — then we can talk about who best balances human thriving with responsible stewardship of the natural world.

      Until then, the present goals and actions of your side are incompatible with being the good guy, whatever the nature of their opposition.

      • Waffle waffle. None of that comes close to your team purposely driving us to 4C. if you can’t accept the Science (kind of ironic at this site) then there’s no hope and natural selection will have to take its toll if you win. A big THANKS for that…

        • I would be happy to follow the science; the problem is that the science is so thoroughly politicized that the public genuinely _doesn’t_ know what the science actually says.

          There may be a true, clear, transparent case in the data for *primarily* anthropogenic climate change. But the current state of funding on the issue incentivises that conclusion out the whazoo, the solutions pushed reduce public’s ability to govern while doing little to mitigate the issue by their own lights, methods to bring down global temperatures quickly not targeting carbon emissions are barely spoken of, and non industrial methods of carbon mitigation – such as soil management and land restoration, and revitalising the Earth’s oceans – aren’t even a blip on the national radar.

          So who does the greater damage if the issue is real; skepticism from corners where one would expect it in any case? Or advocates who poison the well so thoroughly with double talk and mixed agendas that they poison the entire issue?

          • “…There may be a true, clear, transparent case in the data for *primarily* anthropogenic climate change…”

            I think there’s a good possibility they are lying. There’s been so much cooking of the books and lies that believing the “scientist” has become very difficult. There is all sorts of evidence to the contrary that CO2 is not going to burn us to a crisp, or destroy the planet, and there are actual recorded temperatures in the past that show we will not all perish. If I really thought they were right I would be willing to push for strong measures to correct things, but it appears, to me, the whole “climate change” scare is designed to monopolize energy usage and drive the population into being fuedal energy peasants.

            If it’s so important, why don’t we start a crash program for nuclear power, which in a very short time would slow things down to give us breathing room. That they don’t do this shows you they are not really serious.

        • Your religion spends trillions so that carbon output can go up due to increased coal usage and then you complain about how we don’t accept Science when we point it out. Maybe adopt a strategy that actually accomplishes your stated goals.

          • A strategy? Okay – providing that such a considered approach could find any air to breathe in our( intentionally) polarized politics, here you go : Forget carbon trading, taxes, incentives and caps – in fact, set carbon aside for the immediate future. Instead coordinate resources and r&d with major energy providers to develop fast ramp, baseload alternatives, enhanced and geothermal and natural/naturally regenerating hydrogen most prominent among them. Coordinate with farmers and ranchers to develop economically viable methods of soil management and land regeneration, which carries benefits beyond it’s value as a carbon sink. Ditto for ocean revitalization. Do all of this while rejecting the codependency and waste that comes from models that rely on the carrot and sticks of tax and subsidise.

            DO have the government focus on efforts to reduce/remove very high heat trapping gasses and solids from the atmosphere, including methane and carbon black, which is economically feasible, knowing that if we manage the symptom( climate change) for several decades, it is virtually certain that the progress of technology will run out the clock on the oh-so-hard target cause of co2. Do create a clear, transparent, and viable regulatory framework for the approval and deployment of new nuclear plant designs, as well as the continued operation and upgrade of existing plants.

            ALL of these suggestions are perfectly acceptable to a broad swath of the American public. They would be effective, especially in combination, they would be economically viable, and they would avoid the false dialectic of ‘nature and science vs. the energy cabal’.

            And that is why, I suspect, they will all receive anywhere from minimal support to outright opposition from the major environmental lobbies at the federal. Because it’s not about solving the problem; it’s only about the fight.

            • Well, this is embarrassing; apologies, Combinatorics – in my reply to you above, I lost track of whose comment was replying to who( bring back Disqus!). I see that we actually agree in general on this issue.

              Sorry if it looked like I was randomly opposing for no apparent reason. Why oh why can’t this site find a good comment system with full features and stick with it?

    • “Is it wrong to think Elon wants people to vote for a party and presidential candidate that would pull the US out of the Kyoto protocol”

      Kyoto protocol accomplishes nothing so leaving it would make no difference.

      “and bring back a fossil fuel driven economy?”

      Have you seen Germany’s economy lately? Coal + LNG but mostly coal. China is coal. India is coal. Indonesia is coal. Germany spent $2 trillion and is using coal. The fossil fuel economy never went away.

      “Bury climate science (e.g. as it happened under Trump at the EPA) and basically drive us max speed into a 3-4C global temp rise?”

      You mean bring back a policy of pro nuclear zero carbon power production?

      Your religion has spent trillions of dollars and has yet to successfully decarbonize A SINGLE country. Maybe Mr. Musk sees this and wants to change things. The low carbon economy path is clear and it starts in France.

  7. Unless I misunderstand, Elon was not refusing to turn on Starlink for Crimea per se, he was refusing to be the one authorizing it be used for offense against critical Russian targets when the U.S. government wasn’t going that far. If the US government had taken responsibility and authorized it, as far as I understand SpaceX would have acted like any other contractor and done it.

    Elon found himself way out ahead of the US government in a position where he might be making decisions that triggered World War Three and he didn’t want that role.

    • This seems pretty simple: Musk talked to both Russian and American officials, and sided with Russia.

      It might have been out of genuine fear of Russian retaliation, but that just makes him a coward, morally unfit for the amount of influence he wields.

      Or that could just be a rationalization, because Musk has a pretty well documented history of echoing Putin’s talking points about about the need for negotiation with Russia and how oh-so-terribly important Crimea is to Russia, while Russia goes cheerily about their genocidal campaign in Ukraine. Same with Xi and Taiwan.

      (Also, he has a documented history of just, well, lying, about things like his commitment to free speech absolutism.)

      As impressive as SpaceX and Starlink are, I will never understand why people hang on his every word and contort themselves into pretzels giving him the benefit of the doubt.

      He doesn’t deserve it, folks. He doesn’t deserve it.

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