Elon Musk said on Friday that his rocket company SpaceX’s Starlink internet service in Ukraine, which has helped the country’s civilians and military stay connected during the war with Russia, cannot be funded indefinitely.
Musk’s tweet came in response to a media report that SpaceX had asked the Pentagon to pay for Starlink donations. The billionaire has been involved in online spats with Ukrainian officials over a peace plan he proposed, which Ukraine claims is overly generous to Russia.
A senior defense official told reporters on Friday that the Pentagon would not confirm that ongoing talks with the company were about payment, but that the Pentagon was “continuing to talk to SpaceX and other companies about SATCOM capabilities.”
According to a senior US military official, the Starlink communications platform has been “exceptionally effective on the battlefield,” allowing Ukrainians to support multiple device connections in combat.
According to Starlink, the billionaire who runs Tesla, he spends nearly $20 million per month to maintain satellite services in Ukraine. He recently stated that SpaceX had spent approximately $80 million to enable and support Starlink in that location.
“SpaceX is not requesting reimbursement for past expenses, but it also cannot continue to fund the existing system indefinitely while sending several thousand more terminals with data usage up to 100X that of typical households. This is illogical “Musk made the announcement on Twitter on Friday.
“We’ve also had to defend against increasingly difficult cyberattacks and jamming,” Musk wrote.
According to CNN, SpaceX sent a letter to the Pentagon last month stating that it could not continue to fund the Starlink service in Ukraine and that it may have to stop funding it unless the US military gives the company tens of millions of dollars per month.
A request for comment from SpaceX was not returned.
Musk launched Starlink, a satellite broadband service, in Ukraine in late February, following the disruption of internet services caused by Russia’s invasion. Since then, SpaceX has provided it with thousands of terminals.
Starlink has been a critical communications tool for Ukrainian forces fighting Russian forces.
A senior Ukrainian official stated on Friday that Kyiv will find a solution to keep the Starlink internet service operational in Ukraine.
Ukraine said this week that Starlink services aided in the restoration of critical energy and communications infrastructure following more than 100 Russian cruise missile attacks.
Russia describes its intervention in Ukraine as a “special military operation” and claims that civilians are not being targeted.
Musk’s peace plan, in which he proposed that Ukraine permanently cede the Crimean region to Russia, that new referendums be held under U.N. auspices to determine the fate of Russian-controlled territory, and that Ukraine agree to neutrality, drew widespread criticism from Ukrainians.
Ukraine has stated that it will never agree to cede land that has been taken by force, and that lawful referendums cannot be held in occupied territory where many people have been killed or driven out.
Among those who criticized Musk’s proposal was Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Ukraine’s outgoing ambassador to Germany, Andrij Melnyk, also condemned the plan in a tweet, telling Musk to “go away.”
Responding to a post about the fate of the Starlink service and the ambassador’s remark, Musk said:
“We’re simply following his advice.”
On Twitter, Republican U.S. Representative Adam Kingzinger cited Musk’s remarks, writing, “if there was ever proof that
This is it: @elonmusk is playing games. I’m not sure someone like this can be trusted to do business with our government any longer.”
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While extremely expensive to deploy, satellite technology such as Starlink can provide internet access to people living in rural or difficult-to-reach areas where fiber optic cables and cell towers do not reach. When natural disasters disrupt communication, the technology can also be a lifeline.