Bombshell biography: Fearing nuclear war, Musk blocked Starlink to stymie Ukraine attack on Russia
Exploding drone subs 'lost connectivity, washed ashore harmlessly'
Updated Elon Musk personally ordered SpaceX’s Starlink to hold back its satellite broadband service in parts of Ukraine, scuttling a major offensive operation by the nation against Russia, according to a biography about the billionaire tycoon.
An excerpt from the forthcoming tome by Walter Isaacson, titled Elon Musk and shared with CNN, revealed that in 2022 Ukraine planned an attack against Russian naval ships near Crimea. But as Ukraine’s explosive-laden submarine drones approached Russia's warships, they "lost connectivity and washed ashore harmlessly," the book claimed.
SpaceX CEO Musk was the reason for the lost signal: he ensured Starlink connectivity the drones were relying upon was unavailable because he feared a "mini-Pearl Harbor" would otherwise take place, according to Isaacson.
Earlier conversations with Russian officials had convinced Musk that the Kremlin would retaliate against such a Ukrainian attack with nuclear weapons, the biographer wrote.
The incident also, we're told, led Musk to deny Ukrainian requests for additional Starlink systems that could be used for offensive purposes against Russia.
The book, set to go on sale next week, follows February remarks by SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell that Ukraine had "leveraged [Starlink] in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement."
Shotwell didn't provide specifics about what these unacceptable uses were. But Reuters at the time noted she was referring to Ukraine using the satellite broadband service to remotely control drones — which is in accord with Isaacson's account in his latest book.
The excerpt carried by CNN includes the following:
"How am I in this war?" Musk asks Isaacson. "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."
Meanwhile, Mykhailo Fedorov, a deputy prime minister of Ukraine, was reportedly texting Musk and begging him to enable the connectivity. "I just want you — the person who is changing the world through technology — to know this," Fedorov told Musk, according to Isaacson's account.
We have asked Starlink for further comment.
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SpaceX has donated Starlink terminals and satellite comms service to the Ukraine government since Russia’s invasion commenced in February 2022.
Musk, however, has been ambivalent about that support.
He wasn't happy his biz had lost what was claimed to be $80 million as of October 2022 by giving away stuff to Ukraine, and threatened to stop supplying the country with freebies. We note the US federal government purchased some equipment from Starlink to send to Ukraine on top of the biz's donations.
In typical Musk fashion, he then changed his mind about the whole thing with a tweet: "The hell with it. Even though Starlink is still losing money and other companies are getting billions of taxpayer dollars, we'll just keep funding the Ukraine govt for free."
Isaacson also discusses this outburst in the upcoming biography, and reported that Shotwell was none too happy with Musk's reversal.
"The Pentagon had a $145 million check ready to hand to me, literally," Isaacson quotes Shotwell as saying. "Then Elon succumbed to the bullshit on Twitter and to the haters at the Pentagon who leaked the story."
SpaceX has since secured major contracts with the Pentagon to send Starlink systems to Ukraine.
On Wednesday the US Department of Defense announced an additional $175 million security assistance package to help Ukraine counter Russia's invasion, but it's unclear if any of these funds will make their way to SpaceX's coffers. ®
Updated to add
Musk has pretty much confirmed it all on Twitter. One thing we note is that CNN reported, drawing from the biography, that Starlink was ordered by its supremo to "turn off" broadband connectivity to thwart Ukraine's offensive.
If I had agreed to their request, SpaceX would be complicit in a major act of war
The Tesla tycoon, however, said no such connectivity was in place anyway, and that he had refused to provide communications support requested by the Ukrainian military necessary to pull off its attack on Russia.
"There was an emergency request from government authorities to activate Starlink all the way to Sevastopol," Musk xeeted.
"The obvious intent being to sink most of the Russian fleet at anchor. If I had agreed to their request, then SpaceX would be explicitly complicit in a major act of war and conflict escalation."
In any case, Musk didn't want Starlink used for the attack, so ensured the connectivity was simply not there.