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Elon Musk suggests he is pulling internet service from Ukraine after ambassador told him to ‘f*** off’

‘We are not in a position to further donate terminals to Ukraine,’ says SpaceX boss

Adam Smith
Friday 14 October 2022 19:49 BST
Related video: Elon Musk removed from billboards thanking westerners for supporting Ukraine
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Multi-billionaire Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet will no longer be provided free to Ukrainians, and his SpaceX company has apparently asked the Pentagon to pay for it.

Mr Musk suggested that he was pulling the free service after the Ukrainian ambassador was rude to him. The richest man in the world caused fury among many Ukrainians earlier this month with a proposal to end Russia’s war in their country by calling on Kyiv to cede territory gained by Moscow since its invasion in February.

That prompted Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, Andrij Melnyk, to angrily shoot back at Mr Musk by telling him to “f*** off” after his proposal that the Russian invasion of Ukraine could be ended by, among other things, formally allowing Russia to annex Crimea.

Commenting on the latest development, Mr Musk has said he is “just following [the] recommendation” of the Ukrainian ambassador.

In response, Ukraine said it would find a way to keep Starlink working.

“Let’s be honest. Like it or not, @elonmusk helped us survive the most critical moments of war,” said presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak on Twitter.

“Business has the right to its own strategies. Ukraine will find a solution to keep #Starlink working. We expect that the company will provide stable connection till the end of negotiations,” said presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak on Twitter.

The decision could have a major impact on the eight-month war.

Starlink has been a vital source of communication for Ukraine’s military. Mr Musk activated Starlink in Ukraine in late February after internet services were disrupted because of the invasion.

Ukraine’s vice prime minister, Mykhailo Fedorov, said this week that Starlink services helped restore energy and communications infrastructure in critical areas after more than 100 Russian cruise missile attacks.

SpaceX has since given it thousands of terminals. around 20,000, at a cost of “$80m (£72m) and will exceed $100m (£89m) by the end of the year”, Mr Musk tweeted on Friday.

CNN reported that SpaceX had requested the Pentagon pay for Ukraine’s use of Starlink – which could cost close to $120m (£107m) for the rest of the year.

“We are not in a position to further donate terminals to Ukraine, or fund the existing terminals for an indefinite period of time,” SpaceX’s director of government sales apparently wrote to the Pentagon.

“SpaceX faces terribly difficult decisions here. I do not think they have the financial ability to provide any additional terminals or service as requested by General [Valerii] Zaluzhnyi [Ukraine’s commanding general]”, an external consultant wrote.

SpaceX did not respond to The Independent’s request for comment before time of publication.

The United States has already paid for more than 1,330 terminals from SpaceX to send to Ukraine, with SpaceX itself donating 3,670 terminals. The terminals would come with three months of “unlimited data”.

The latest development could prompt a further backlash against Mr Musk, following his recent comments on the war.

“Re-do elections of annexed regions under UN supervision. Russia leaves if that is will of the people,” wrote Mr Musk recently.

“Crimea formally part of Russia, as it has been since 1783 (until Khrushchev’s mistake). Water supply to Crimea assured. Ukraine remains neutral.

“This is highly likely to be the outcome in the end – just a question of how many die before then. Also worth noting that a possible, albeit unlikely, outcome from this conflict is nuclear war.”

He later added: “Russia is doing partial mobilisation. They go to full war mobilization if Crimea is at risk. Death on both sides will be devastating. Russia has >3 times population of Ukraine, so victory for Ukraine is unlikely in total war. If you care about the people of Ukraine, seek peace.”

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky followed up with a Twitter poll of his own, asking his followers which Elon Musk they preferred, “One who supports Ukraine” or “One who supports Russia.”

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