Ukraine claims Russian military is using Starlink

Musk: No terminals have been sold to Russia 'to the best of our knowledge'

SpaceX supremo Elon Musk has waded into controversy over the alleged use of Starlink by Russian forces.

"To the best of our knowledge," Musk said, "no Starlinks have been sold directly or indirectly to Russia."

Yesterday's response from the billionaire follows reports which indicate that the Russian military is using Starlink terminals in occupied regions of Ukraine.

Starlink terminals were rapidly deployed to assist Ukraine following Russia's invasion in 2022. The devices have proven to be vital in keeping lines of communication open, both on and off the battlefield. Musk threw a tantrum over costs in late 2022, and in 2023, Starlink won an official contract to keep the bytes flowing.

However, despite denials from both Musk and Starlink that Russia could log into the Starlink store and pick up a dozen terminals, reports continue to surface of the technology being used by Russian forces.

Ukrainian defense intelligence spokesperson Andriy Yusov was quoted by The Guardian as saying: "Cases of the Russian occupier's use of the given devices have been registered. It is beginning to take on a systemic nature."

Starlink bluntly stated that it "is not active in Russia, meaning service will not work in that country."

"SpaceX has never sold or marketed Starlink in Russia, nor has it shipped equipment to locations in Russia."

Yet what if Russia was to buy a Starlink terminal from somewhere else? And then ship it out to the battlefield? Or perhaps capture one from opposing forces?

And although the terminals are not being used in Russia, they are being used in Ukraine. Both Starlink and Musk have been vague, with Musk dropping in a carefully worded "to the best of our knowledge" and Starlink saying: "If SpaceX obtains knowledge that a Starlink terminal is being used by a sanctioned or unauthorized party, we investigate the claim and take actions to deactivate the terminal if confirmed."

Musk and Starlink have stopped short of denying the technology might be in the hands of the Russian military in occupied parts of Ukraine where the Starlink service is active. However, without a clear identification of the terminals involved, it is difficult to see what Starlink can do. The service is not active in Russia, and shutting down the service in Ukraine could have other unwanted consequences.

Yusov clearly suspects something is amiss, despite the clear denials from Musk and Starlink that any of the devices have been sold directlyto Russia. If some terminals are being used, passing on their details to Starlink should trigger an investigation and possible deactivation. ®

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