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Musk says he didn't turn on Starlink near Crimea due to US sanctions on Russia

by Elsa Court and The Kyiv Independent news desk September 13, 2023 6:46 PM 2 min read
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and X, arrives for the “AI Insight Forum” outside the Kennedy Caucus Room in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on Sept. 13, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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U.S. sanctions on Russia meant that Starlink satellite connection near Crimea could not be turned on for a Ukrainian military operation without permission from the U.S. president, Elon Musk said at the All-In Summit in Los Angeles on Sept. 12.

"The sanctions include Crimea, and we are not allowed to turn on the connection to a sanctioned country without explicit government approval," the billionaire owner of SpaceX, which operates Starlink satellites, told the audience.

The Ukrainian government asked for the connection to be turned on "in the middle of the night," for what Musk said was "a Pearl Harbor type attack on the Russian fleet in Sevastopol."

Ukraine was "asking us to take part in a major act of war," he said, adding that "if I had received a presidential directive to turn it on, I would have done so," he added.

The businessman was responding to recent reports that he had secretly instructed his engineers to turn off Starlink satellite communications near Crimea in 2022 to prevent a Ukrainian submarine drone attack against Russian military ships.

As the drones loaded with explosives approached the Russian fleet, they "lost connectivity and washed ashore harmlessly," Walter Isaacson wrote in a newly published biography titled "Elon Musk."

Musk previously denied on Sept. 8 that he had Starlink satellite communications to disrupt a Ukrainian drone attack, saying that they had not been active in this region in the first place.

On Sept. 11. Senator Elizabeth Warren called for an investigation into Elon Musk and his company, SpaceX to see "whether we have adequate tools to make sure foreign policy is conducted by the government and not by one billionaire," Warren said.

In June 2023, the Pentagon confirmed that SpaceX had won a contract from the Defense Department to provide Ukraine with Starlink satellite services but did not reveal the price, scope, or delivery timeline, citing operational security.

SpaceX began providing the Starlink satellite internet system to Ukraine shortly after the Russian full-scale invasion in February 2022.

FT: Musk gave his biographer confidential messages with Ukraine’s Minister Fedorov without permission
Elon Musk provided his confidential conversation with Ukraine’s Digital Transformation Minister Mykhailo Fedorov to the billionaire’s biographer without permission, the Financial Times reported on Sept. 8.
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