The US Senate Armed Services Committee is currently conducting an investigation into Elon Musk’s decision to not extend Starlink satellite internet coverage in order to prevent a potential Ukraine attack on a Russian warship near Crimea. The committee, led by chairman Jack Reed, is approaching the issue with great diligence, recognizing the serious national-security liability concerns that arose from the incident. However, it should be noted that the panel is still in the process of gathering information and has not initiated a formal investigation at this time.
Details of the Ukraine Starlink incident emerged from Walter Isaacson’s biography on Elon Musk. In a disputed excerpt, it was claimed that Musk had deactivated Starlink access in the vicinity of the Crimean coast to thwart a potential Ukrainian attack. Musk, on the other hand, explained that Starlink was not operational in those areas due to the US-imposed sanctions on Russia. Therefore, SpaceX had no capability to disable anything. In a recent podcast, Musk stated that if President Biden had given him the order, he would have extended Starlink to Crimea. However, he never received any such directive.
Musk further clarified that he had denied Ukraine’s request to activate Starlink all the way to Sevastopol. He asserted that complying with their request would have implicated SpaceX in a direct act of war and heightened conflict escalation. Musk emphasized that neither he nor any private citizen should have unilateral control over matters related to US national security.
Senators raised concerns about Musk making this decision instead of government officials. Chairman Reed emphasized that no private citizen, including Elon Musk, should have the final say in matters of national security. It is worth noting that SpaceX did not receive any payments from the US government for its Ukraine Starlink operations at the time of the request. However, the company now receives Pentagon funding.
The announcement of the investigation coincided with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s upcoming visit to the US to meet with President Biden. In addition to Starlink, SpaceX is a significant contractor for the US, involved in launching spy satellites for the Defense Department.