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Musk talked to Russian ambassador before Starlink decision – WaPo

The billionaire was reportedly told that a Ukrainian attack on Crimea could trigger a nuclear response from Moscow

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk spoke to Russia’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, before making the decision to switch off his Starlink satellite internet service in Crimea last September to thwart a Ukrainian attack on the peninsula, the Washington Post has reported.

On Thursday, the paper published more details about Musk cutting Starlink coverage to prevent a Ukrainian seaborne drone strike on the Russian Black Sea Fleet base in Sevastopol. The events that occurred have been described in a biography of the tech billionaire by historian Walter Isaacson that is due to hit shelves next week.

With Kiev’s forces poised to launch their attack, Musk spoke with Antonov, who told him that a strike on Crimea, which became part of Russia after a referendum in 2014, “could lead to a nuclear response” by Moscow, Isaacson said in his book.

“In later conversations with a few other people, he [Musk] seemed to imply that he had spoken directly to [Russian] President Vladimir Putin, but to me he said his communications had gone through the ambassador,” the historian wrote.

According to Isaacson, Musk concluded that “allowing the use of Starlink for the attack… could be a disaster for the world.” He therefore took matters into his own hands and secretly instructed engineers to turn off coverage within 100km of the Crimean coast. As a result of the move, the six explosive-laden Ukrainian drones, which relied on Starlink for navigation, “lost connectivity and washed ashore harmlessly.”

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Musk started receiving “frantic” calls from Kiev as soon as the Ukrainians realized that the satellite service wasn’t working. They tried to explain to the billionaire that the drones were “crucial to their fight for freedom,” but Musk still refused to switch Starlink back on. He argued that Ukraine was “going too far and inviting strategic defeat” by targeting Crimea, Isaacson wrote.

The historian also claimed that Musk had discussed the situation with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, explaining to them that he didn’t intend for Starlink to be used for offensive purposes.

Musk provided a slightly different account of events in a series of posts on X (formerly Twitter), saying that Starlink was never active around Crimea and that he simply turned down Ukrainian calls to provide coverage in the area. “If I had agreed to their request, then SpaceX would be explicitly complicit in a major act of war and conflict escalation,” he argued.

Commenting on revelations from Isaacson’s book, Mikhail Podoliak, a senior aide to Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, said that Musk’s decision was the result of “a cocktail of ignorance and big ego.” The billionaire “committed evil” by allowing the Russian fleet to continue striking Ukrainian targets with Kalibr missiles, he claimed.

READ MORE: Musk ‘the last adequate mind’ in America – Medvedev

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who now serves as deputy head of the country’s Security Council, described Musk as “the last adequate mind in North America” for preventing a strike on Crimea.

September 09, 2023 at 03:18PM

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