Update on Sunday, October 16: Elon Musk, the head of SpaceX, finally announced on Saturday that he would continue to fund the Starlink network in Ukraine. “It doesn’t matter… even if Starlink still loses money and other companies receive billions of dollars from taxpayers, we will continue to fund the Ukrainian government,” the multibillionaire tweeted.
Last July, the Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Army, General Valeri Zalouzhny, praised the “exceptional usefulness” of Starlink units, which notably allow combat forces to communicate by telephone, guide drones in the best possible way and operate many electronic systems devices. While the country’s cell phone and internet networks were destroyed by the Russian army, SpaceX’s service, which provides an internet network via satellite, appears to be vital to Ukraine’s continued resistance. To make up for regular terminal losses, General Zaloujny has requested the delivery of an additional 6,200 pieces of equipment this summer for his army and intelligence services. A request to which the boss of SpaceX, the multimillionaire Elon Musk, no longer seems able to respond favorably.
The American channel CNN revealed this Friday that SpaceX’s senior director of government sales had sent a letter to the Pentagon in September, in which it expressed the company’s inability to continue to finance the Starlink service in Ukraine. The reason: the cost of operations. According to the letter seen by CNN, SpaceX estimates that a Starlink kit — which includes a plate — costs $2,500 each. However, according to Musk, there are about 25,000 satellite dishes in Ukraine.
If we add the regular destruction of equipment, the total cost would reach $120 million at the end of the year and nearly $400 million over the next twelve months. Thus, a consultant working for SpaceX told CNN that “sending several thousand additional terminals – as requested by General Zaloujny – whose data consumption is up to 100 times greater than that of typical homes, will be impossible”. So that Ukrainians are not deprived of the network, SpaceX is asking the American government to pay the next bills.
SpaceX is not alone in paying for the Starlink service
This sudden revelation of a possible end to Elon Musk’s aid to Ukraine raises questions. Especially because the American businessman seems less and less determined to support Kyiv in the conflict between it and Russia, as a recent tweet tends to prove in which he proposes the following peace plan: “Redo the elections of the annexed regions under UN supervision. Russia leaves if that is the will of the people. – Crimea is officially part of Russia, as it has been since 1783 (until Khrushchev’s mistake). – Crimea’s water supply is secured. – Ukraine remains neutral.”
This diplomatic solution by the billionaire greatly displeased the Ukrainian authorities. To the point that the Ukrainian ambassador in Germany replied “fuck you”, and President Volodymyr Zelensky, more diplomatic, asked him to specify which camp he was in. On Monday, Musk replied “still very much on Ukraine’s side”, without hiding that he feared “a massive escalation”. And that only his plan would be able to avoid it.
This ambiguous position also bothers the Pentagon, which, through the voice of one of its top officials, denounced Musk’s “chutzpah”. This one pretends to be a “hero”, while SpaceX is far from being the only entity to finance the Starlink network. Indeed, figures communicated by the company to the Pentagon show that around 85% of the terminals present in Ukraine were at least partially paid for by third countries such as the United States and Poland, as well as around 30% of Internet connectivity.
“Without Starlink, Ukrainians would have to act blindly in many situations,” computer security expert Dimitri Alperovitch told CNN. As for Commander Roman Kovalenko, he estimates that “work efficiency without Starlink would decrease by 60% or more.” The Ukrainian concern is therefore legitimate, even though Elon Musk tweeted on Thursday that he was “happy to support Ukraine”, in response to a Ukrainian minister who insisted on the importance of the internet network. On Friday, a senior adviser to the Ukrainian president issued a conciliatory note, saying he was confident a deal could be reached to keep the service.