Elon Musk spoke with Vladimir Putin directly, Pentagon official says

‘Oh, dear, this is not good’

Maroosha Muzaffar
Tuesday 22 August 2023 08:57 BST

Related video: Elon Musk posts video of demo Starlink internet satellites deploying

Elon Musk said he had engaged in direct conversation with Vladimir Putin, according to a former Pentagon official.

Mr Musk’s comments had been made in a discussion the billionaire had with Pentagon officials in October last year about the satellite-based internet provided by SpaceX to Ukraine’s military.

The billionaire had told Colin Kahl, then the under-secretary of defence for policy at the Pentagon, that he had spoken to Mr Putin personally, according a report on Monday in the New Yorker.

“Even though Musk is not technically a diplomat or statesman, I felt it was important to treat him as such, given the influence he had on this issue,” Mr Kahl is quoted as saying.

The conversation between Mr Musk and the then-Pentagon official occurred while Ukrainian forces were experiencing a disruption in their connection to Space Exploration Technologies Corp’s (SpaceX) Starlink service, coinciding with their entry into territory contested by Russia.

“My inference was that he was getting nervous that Starlink’s involvement was increasingly seen in Russia as enabling the Ukrainian war effort, and was looking for a way to placate Russian concerns,” Mr Kahl told the outlet.

Another source told the New Yorker that Mr Musk had previously expressed the same assertion in the weeks leading up to his tweet about a pro-Russia peace plan. He mentioned that his consultations with the Kremlin were occurring regularly.

But he later denied having spoken to Mr Putin about Ukraine.

A senior official is quoted as saying that on the phone call, Mr Musk said he was looking at his laptop and could see “the entire war unfolding” through a map of Starlink activity.

“This was, like, three minutes before he said, ‘Well, I had this great conversation with Putin’,” the senior defence official was quoted as saying.

“And we were, like, ‘Oh, dear, this is not good’.”

SpaceX had put forward a request for the US and its allies to bear a larger portion of the expenses for Starlink in Ukraine.

As per the unclassified talking points for the call, during the conversation, Mr Musk was reportedly appreciated for his endeavours in Ukraine, and the considerable expenses he had shouldered were acknowledged.

Additionally, Mr Kahl said there was a plea made for a brief extension of a few weeks to formulate a contract.

“If you cut this off, it doesn’t end the war,” Mr Kahl recalled telling Mr Musk.

After a 15-minute call, Mr Musk reportedly agreed to give the Pentagon more time. Later though, in response to public backlash, he retracted his earlier statements of discontinuing the service.

“The hell with it,” Mr Musk tweeted. “Even though Starlink is still losing money and other companies are getting billions of taxpayer $, we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free.”

In June this year, the Department of Defence disclosed that it had successfully reached an agreement with SpaceX.

“We continue to work with a range of global partners to ensure Ukraine has the resilient satellite and communication capabilities they need. Satellite communications constitute a vital layer in Ukraine’s overall communications network and the department contracts with Starlink for services of this type,” the Pentagon said in a statement at the time.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in