Elon Musk is a troublemaker in the Russian war machine.
The CEO of electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla (TSLA) has completely turned Moscow's communication plan upside down, a plan aimed at imposing its narrative in the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Everything seemed to be going according to President Vladimir Putin's plans until Musk, the most influential CEO in the world with almost 106 million followers on the social network Twitter, condemned this invasion by officially giving his support to Kyiv and the Ukrainians.
The tycoon even went further by deciding to send Starlink antennas to Ukraine to allow the population and local authorities to continue to communicate with the outside world in order to tell their daily lives and their version of what is happening.
Life Line for Some Ukranians
Starlink, the satellite internet connection service of Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX, allows Ukrainians independent access to the internet. The service also enables the country to keep in touch with the outside world via its constellation of low-earth orbit satellites. It is particularly used in areas bombed by Russia and remote areas.
By sending Starlink into besieged Ukraine, the tech mogul derailed Moscow's plans to cut the country off from the outside world by destroying its telecommunications infrastructure.
"Rough data on Starlink's usage: around 150K active users per day. This is crucial support for Ukraine's infrastructure and restoring the destroyed territories," Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister and Digital Minister Mykhailo Fedorov said on May 2.
Fedorov explains that Starlink is now a kind of lifeline for many of his compatriots: "Ukraine will stay connected no matter what," he added.
The former head of Russia’s space agency, Dmitry Rogozin, has threatened Musk’s life, the billionaire said in a tweet in May. "You will have to answer in an adult way, Elon, no matter how you turn on the fool,” Rogozin wrote in a message.
Rogozin's death threats reflected the frustration that had become very palpable among influential Russian personalities in favor of the war. Putin had expected his military to be able to take over Ukraine in a matter of a few days. However, strong Ukrainian resistance and very poor performance by the Russia's military have combined to create a long-lasting conflict.
In May, Musk said that Russia had tried to hack the Starlink network.
"Starlink has resisted Russian cyberwar jamming & hacking attempts so far, but they’re ramping up their efforts," the mogul wrote on May 10.
More than three months later, it seems that Starlink is still in the sights of Russia. The Russian delegation to the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) made a recent statement at a September 12 UNODA meeting that appears to indirectly target the SpaceX’s service.
"We would like to underline an extremely dangerous trend that goes beyond the harmless use of outer space technologies and has become apparent during the events in Ukraine. Namely, the use by the United States and its allies of the elements of civilian, including commercial, infrastructure in outer space for military purposes," Russia said in its statement that was made in Russian. This is a translation in English made by TheStreet. You can fin the original statement here.
"It seems like our colleagues, probably, do not realize that such activities, in fact, constitute indirect participation in armed conflicts. Quasi-civil infrastructure may be a 'legitimate target' for retaliation," Moscow added.
The statement does not mention the name of Starlink but the service has become an important part of the communication system in the country as noted by many users on social networks.
"It’s clear that Starlink has become an important part of Ukraine’s command, control and communication system in parts of the country," commented on Twitter Shashank Joshi, Defence journalist at The Economist.
Musk seems to think that the Russian statement is indeed targeting Starlink satellites. The billionaire has just reminded Moscow that the service is, above all, a communication tool and not a tool of war.
"Starlink is meant for peaceful use only," the tycoon wrote on September 16.
He did not elaborate further.
But several hours later he added that: "to help mend the fault in our stars."
It is important to note that Moscow's remarks come at a difficult time for the country in this armed conflict. Russia has just suffered a bitter aftermath in eastern Ukraine.
At the beginning of September, Ukraine made a lightning breakthrough in the Russian lines and took over 6,000 km2 of its territory near Kherson and Kharkiv, in the south and north-east of the country. These military successes have undermined Russian morale and cast doubts in the minds of some Russians supporting this war.