U.S. billionaire Elon Musk has defended the decision taken by his SpaceX company to limit the use of its Starlink satellite internet system by the Ukrainian military, insisting the company will not be responsible for escalating the Russo-Ukrainian conflict that may lead to World War III.
Shortly into the war, Ukraine was handed thousands of SpaceX Starlink satellite dishes, which proved to be invaluable in keeping communication channels open across Ukraine and allowing people to remain connected to the internet. However, they have also been frequently used by the Ukrainian military to control its network of surveillance drones and target Russian positions, which SpaceX insists was not agreed upon.
Last Wednesday, SpaceX President and CEO Gwynne Shotwell announced measures to curb the Starlink system’s use by the Ukrainian military across the country, claiming it was “never meant to be weaponized” and accusing Ukrainian forces of using the system “in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement.”
“We know the military is using them for comms, and that’s OK,” she said. “But our intent was never to have them use it for offensive purposes.”
The decision outraged Ukrainian government officials, with President Zelensky’s top adviser Mykhailo Podolyak accusing Musk’s company of failing to recognize Ukraine’s right to self-defense.
He said on Thursday that SpaceX could choose to be “on the side of the right to freedom,” or instead remain “on the Russian Federation’s side and its ‘right’ to kill and seize territories.”
Former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly tweeted at Musk on Saturday calling on him to “please restore the full functionality of your Starlink satellites.
“Defense from a genocidal invasion is not an offensive capability. It’s survival. Innocent lives will be lost. You can help. Thank you.”
However, Musk defended the decision taken by SpaceX, insisting he would not be responsible for World War III.
“You’re smart enough not to swallow media and other propaganda BS,” Musk told Kelly.
“Starlink is the communication backbone of Ukraine, especially at the front lines, where almost all other Internet connectivity has been destroyed. But we will not enable escalation of conflict that may lead to WW3,” he added.
Musk said in October last year that he could not continue to fund Starlink in Ukraine indefinitely, before reversing his decision and keeping the system in place for the foreseeable future.
Both Musk himself and SpaceX have frequently warned Starlink’s internet connection is not to be used by military engagements, and the satellite system’s terms of service state its services are “not designed or intended for use with or in offensive or defensive weaponry or other comparable end-uses.”