Elon Musk considered pulling plug on Ukraine’s Starlink access after ‘great conversation with Putin’

Elon Musk considered pulling Starlink satellite internet from Ukraine after having a “great conversation with Putin,” according to a former Pentagon official.

The 52 year-old South African-born billionaire floated switching off his network of satellites after Ukrainian forces reported outages close to the front lines separating them from their Russian occupiers, reported the New Yorker.

Speaking to the magazine, Colin Kahl, a US undersecretary of defence for policy until last month, said he was tasked with making sure Musk did not turn the system off altogether.

“If you turn this off, it doesn’t end the war,” Mr Kahl said he told the SpaceX chief.

“My interference was that he was getting nervous that Starlink’s involvement was increasingly seen in Russia as enabling the Ukrainian war effort, and was looking for a way to placate Russian concerns.”

The satellites donated by Mr Musk’s SpaceX, are vital to Ukraine’s war efforts and are used to coordinate drone strikes and gather intelligence.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, carrying Starlink satellites (AP)
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, carrying Starlink satellites (AP)

According to Mr Kahl, Musk boasted that he could see the “entire war unfolding” through the Starlink terminals and that he had doubts about whether they should remain on for fear of being a warmonger.

“This was, like, three minutes before he said, ‘well, I had this great conversation with Putin’,” Mr Kahl said.

Reid Hoffman, who helped found Paypal with Elon Musk, also told the magazine that Musk “bought what Putin was selling, hook, line, and sinker” over the war in Ukraine.

It came after reported outages with the Starlink system affected Ukrainian units in Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Luhansk.

Last year, the entrepreneur was accused of parroting Kremlin talking points by publishing a ‘peace’ proposal on Twitter which suggested Ukraine cede territory to Russia.

He has also previously suggested Ukraine should mirror sovereignty referendums organised by Russia in regions it occupied.

After facing criticism, Musk tweeted: “SpaceX’s out of pocket cost to enable & support Starlink in Ukraine is ~$80M so far. Our support for Russia is $0. Obviously, we are pro Ukraine.”

In response to a public backlash in October to claims that SpaceX had decided it would no longer donate Starlink devices to Ukraine over cost, Musk tweeted: “Even though Starlink is still losing money and other companies are getting billions of taxpayer $, we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free.”

In June, the Pentagon announced it had reached a deal with SpaceX to maintain the system’s use in Ukraine. The terms of the agreement are not known.

However, the pact is believed to give Ukraine unabridged access to the system, according to US media reports.

The Standard has contacted Musk’s SpaceX company for comment.