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Starlink News in Ukraine: Musk Denies Selling Portals to Russia

Raghad Habash Raghad Habash
14th February 2024
Starlink News in Ukraine: Musk Denies Selling Portals to Russia
Elon Musk denies selling Starlink portals to Russia (Getty)

The hashtag "#StarlinkGenocide" has widely spread on social media following reports of Russia using Starlink communications against the Ukrainian Army. This follows a statement by the Defense Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense in Ukraine confirming the occupation of Russian satellite communication terminals, which are now being utilized in the front lines by Russian forces.

Elon Musk denies selling Starlink portals to Russia

Russia Using Starlink Terminals in Ukraine and Accusations Against SpaceX

Starlink terminals have been widely used since the beginning of the Ukrainian-Russian war, as they were rushed in to support Ukrainian forces after the Russian invasion in February 2022.
The statement from the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine confirmed that Russians are using Starlink communications at the front line, where conversations between Russian militants have been intercepted. The statement indicates that the use of Starlink was detected in troops of the 83rd air assault brigade, operating in the Donetsk region to establish internet access. The representative of the Defense Intelligence, Andriy Yusov, commented in the news: "Yes, it’s true. Cases of using the mentioned devices by Russian occupants have been recorded. This is starting to become systemic." These statements assure that Russians are using Starlink in occupied lands, without defining whether they use the already existing network in Ukraine or their own equipment.

Russia Using Starlink Terminals in Ukraine

According to many websites, reports from Ukraine claim that Starlink equipment has been sourced to Russia through Dubai. Such third-party exporting has been widely used to provide the Russian arsenal with Western equipment, considering the imposed sanctions. Starlink stated that its network never operated or was sold to Russia on February 8, while Elon Musk confirmed in a post on the X platform, stating that the news is 'categorically wrong' and that "To the best of our knowledge, no Starlinks have been sold directly or indirectly to Russia."

Elon Musk

Today, the Kremlin denied the use of Starlink by its troops, clarifying that it has neither been certified for use in Russia nor officially supplied to its troops.

Kremlin denies its troops use Elon Musk's Starlink

The Kremlin spokesman said, "This is not a certified system with us; accordingly, it cannot be officially supplied here and is not officially supplied. Accordingly, it cannot be used officially in any way." Nonetheless, accusations of Starlink providing Russian forces with connections are widely spreading among X accounts.


The Importance of Starlink Connections in the Russian-Ukrainian War

Starlink was launched in 2019 as a privately-owned and run technology by SpaceX. It constitutes a low Earth orbit satellite constellation and provides high-speed internet across the globe. This technology enables more people to access the internet and offers high-quality broadband.

Starlink has played an essential role in the Russian-Ukrainian war. After Russian cyberattacks against the Ukrainian communication infrastructure, the technology enabled a reliable internet connection and communication for about 150,000 Ukrainian military officials and civilians daily, according to a report in May 2022. The activation of Starlink in Ukraine was initiated rapidly after Ukraine’s Minister of Digital Transformation requested Elon Musk to enable it in Ukraine. Within 3 days, Musk responded positively, and the terminals were shipped to Ukraine. Since then, Starlink has been effectively used by the Ukrainian army, especially in connecting drones using the network that provides real-time imagery data. On February 8, Starlink prevented the use of its technology in controlling drones, where the President of SpaceX, Gwynne Shotwell, stated that Starlink was "never meant to be weaponized."

Russian-Ukrainian war

While such privately-owned technology has proven its efficiency in the Ukrainian war, the difference in incentives and accountability mechanisms between privately-owned technologies and the governments using them may cause instability and a lack of guarantee for their use. For instance, Starlink refused to provide connection to Russian-occupied Crimea, where Ukrainian forces were planning a sneak attack, sparking dissatisfaction within the Ukrainian government. Musk stated that he rejected Kyiv's request because if he did not, “SpaceX would be explicitly complicit in a major act of war and conflict escalation.” This conflict of interest between the private sector and governments might be the main cause of elevating news about contrasting use of the same technology.

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