Ukrainian defense officials have claimed Russian forces in areas of eastern Ukraine that they occupy are using terminals of Elon Musk’s satellite Internet service Starlink, although Musk later denied his company is dealing with Russia.
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s Main Directorate of Intelligence posted on February 11 on Telegram an audio clip of what it said was an intercept of an exchange between two Russian soldiers, claiming it as proof of its “systemic” use.
SpaceX, which runs the Starlink terminals, said in a statement on February 8 on X, formerly Twitter, that it “does not do business of any kind with the Russian government or its military,” and that its service does not work in Russia.
Musk himself on February 11 took to his X platform, formerly known as Twitter, to reject any suggestion his company is providing equipment to Russia.
“A number of false news reports claim that SpaceX is selling Starlink terminals to Russia. This is categorically false,” he wrote.
“To the best of our knowledge, no Starlinks have been sold directly or indirectly to Russia,” he added.
The Ukrainian directorate said the audio clip posted on Telegram featured troops from Russia’s 83rd Air Assault Brigade discussing setting up the terminals in eastern Ukraine.
It gave no details about the alleged scale of use or how the terminals were obtained. Spokesman Andriy Yusov told Ukrainian media on February 10 that the matter was “beginning to take on a systemic nature.”
Starlink is a network of more than 2,000 satellites orbiting the Earth in communication with thousands of terminals on the ground. It was activated across Ukraine in late February 2022 after Internet services were disrupted because of Russia’s full-scale invasion.
Starlink’s presence in Ukraine has not only proven invaluable on the combat front but also in restoring energy and communication infrastructure targeted by Russia. Yet questions remain about how committed its billionaire owner is to supporting the war effort.
Musk has said he prevented a Ukrainian attack on a Russian Navy base in 2022 by declining Kyiv’s request to activate Internet access in the Black Sea near Moscow-annexed Crimea.
That revelation in September 2023 drew sharp condemnation from Mykhaylo Podolyak, a senior aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who called it “the price of a cocktail of ignorance and big ego.”
The incident in question revolved around a dramatic plan by Ukraine late last year to cripple Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet based in Sevastopol.
“There was an emergency request from government authorities to activate Starlink all the way to Sevastopol. The obvious intent being to sink most of the Russian fleet at anchor,” Musk said on X on September 7 after CNN published excerpts from an upcoming biography of Musk describing the incident.
“If I had agreed to their request, then SpaceX would be explicitly complicit in a major act of war and conflict escalation,” said Musk at the time.