Elon Musk thwarted Ukrainian drone attack on Russian ships, book claims

SpaceX CEO thrust into high-stakes diplomacy over Ukrainian Starlink access, new biography reveals

Bevan Hurley
Thursday 07 September 2023 19:16 BST
SpaceX: Elon Musk speaks out

Elon Musk ordered SpaceX engineers to cut off Ukrainian access to Starlink satellites near the Crimean coast to prevent a surprise drone attack on Russian warships, a new biography claims.

The drones packed with explosives “lost connectivity and washed ashore harmlessly” during the thwarted attack some time last year, Walter Isaacson writes in his upcoming book Elon Musk, according to an excerpt obtained by CNN.

Mr Musk told the author that he feared a strike on occupied Crimea would amount to a “mini-Pearl Harbour” and lead to a Russian nuclear retaliation, Mr Isaacson writes.

The decision led Ukrainian officials to beg the world’s richest person to reinstate the satellites.

The account highlights how Mr Musk unwittingly found himself thrust into the frontlines of the the 18-month-old conflict.

“How am I in this war?” Mr Musk reportedly asked the writer, who has previously published biographies of Steve Jobs and Henry Kissinger.

“Starlink was not meant to be involved in wars. It was so people can watch Netflix and chill and get online for school and do good peaceful things, not drone strikes.”

The world’s richest man found himself thrust into the world of high-stakes diplomacy, and reportedly spoke to US national security adviser Jake Sullivan, joint chiefs chairman Mark Milley and the Russian ambassador to the US.

Elon Musk’s new biography contains revealing insights into the erratic billionaire

Ukraine’s former deputy prime minister Mykhailo Fedorov also contacted Mr Musk to beg him to switch the satellites back on, according to the book.

The SpaceX CEO replied that the drone attack was “going too far and inviting strategic defeat,” and declined to restore access.

SpaceX has donated more than 20,000 Starlink terminals to Ukraine after Russia destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure in the beginning of the war in February 2022.

Last October, Mr Musk wrote to the Pentagon to say that it could no longer afford to continue funding the service, which he estimated had cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars, CNN revealed at the time.

After the story broke, Mr Musk wrote on Twitter, now known as X: “The hell with it … we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free.”

A Starlink satellite-based broadband system used by Ukrainian servicemen is seen in Bakhmut on 1 February, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine

According to Mr Isaacson, US Defense officials had been about to hand over a $145m check before his reversal.

“Elon succumbed to the bulls*** on Twitter and to the haters at the Pentagon who leaked the story,” SpaceX’s president Gwynne Shotwell reportedly told Mr Isaacson.

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment by The Independent.

In a promotional blurb, publishers Simon & Schuster say that Mr Isaacson shadowed Mr Musk for two years to gain an insight into every aspect of the billionaire’s world.

The author “attended his meetings, walked his factories with him, and spent hours interviewing him, his family, friends, coworkers, and adversaries”.

“The result is the revealing inside story, filled with amazing tales of triumphs and turmoil, that addresses the question: are the demons that drive Musk also what it takes to drive innovation and progress?”

* Elon Musk by Walter Isaacson is set to be realeased by Simon & Schuster on 12 September

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