According to reports from major U.S. news outlets, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk ordered the shutdown of the company’s Starlink satellite internet service in Russia-occupied Crimea in 2022. The move was aimed at disrupting a planned Ukrainian military attack on the region.
According to Walter Isaacson’s upcoming biography of Musk, the Ukrainian submarine drones attempting to attack the Russian fleet lost connectivity and washed ashore harmlessly due to the shutdown of Starlink. Musk’s decision was motivated by his fear that a Ukrainian attack would prompt a nuclear response from Russia, based on conversations he had with senior Russian officials.
The incident underscores the reliance of the U.S. government on SpaceX, a company that has fought to establish itself in the Washington establishment. The shutdown occurred just as the armed submarine drones were about to launch their attack on the Russian fleet.
It should be noted, however, that Musk clarified that Starlink coverage was never activated in Crimea in the first place. He claimed that the Ukrainian government had requested activation up to the city of Sevastopol, but he refused to escalate the conflict by complying. Musk’s refusal was seen by some as an acknowledgment of his intent to prevent the Ukrainian attack.
Musk further explained that U.S. sanctions prohibited Starlink access in Russia-occupied Ukraine without explicit permission. He stated that there was no advance warning from Ukraine and that he received urgent calls in the middle of the night to turn on Starlink access in Crimea. Musk compared the situation to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, stating that the Ukrainian government was asking SpaceX to participate in a major act of war.
The details surrounding the incident and the U.S. sanctions on Starlink access in Crimea are still unclear. Musk’s claims were met with criticism from Ukrainian officials who argued that the unavailability of Starlink’s services put lives at risk.
Further clarification from the U.S. Department of Treasury and Ukrainian government officials is awaited to confirm the impact of the sanctions and the requests made to Musk.