AP

Musk deputy’s words on Starlink ‘weaponization’ vex Ukraine

Feb 9, 2023, 1:35 PM | Updated: 2:26 pm

BOSTON (AP) — Ukrainians reacted Thursday with puzzlement and some ire to comments by a top Starlink official that their country has “weaponized” the satellite internet service, which has been pivotal to their national survival.

President Gwynne Shotwell of SpaceX, which runs Starlink, was also reported to have said at the same venue Wednesday that the Elon Musk-controlled company has taken unspecified action to prevent Ukraine’s military from using Starlink technology against Russian invaders.

The network of low-orbiting satellites has been crucial to Ukraine’s use of battlefield drones — a central fixture of the year-old war — and the country’s defenders have no viable alternative. The satellite links help Ukrainian fighters locate the enemy and target long-range artillery strikes.

Onstage at a conference in Washington, D.C., Shotwell said: “We were really pleased to be able to provide Ukraine connectivity and help them in their fight for freedom. It was never intended to be weaponized. However, Ukrainians have leveraged it in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement.”

Speaking separately to reporters from The Wall Street Journal and other news organizations afterward, Shotwell said SpaceX has worked to restrict Ukraine’s use of Starlink for military purposes.

“There are things that we can do to limit their ability to do that,” they quoted her as saying without offering details. “There are things that we can do, and have done.”

That drew the ire of a top aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. In a tweet, Mykhailo Podolyak said SpaceX needs to decide whether it is on the side of Ukraine’s right to freedom or Russia’s “‘right’ to kill & seize territories.”

It was not clear whether Shotwell’s comments Wednesday were made at the urging of Musk, the founder, CEO and chief engineer of SpaceX. An email to SpaceX seeking comment was not immediately returned.

There was no indication of any interruption to Starlink service in Ukraine.

In a statement, the country’s Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov reported “no problems with the operation of Starlink uplink terminals in Ukraine.” A ministry official familiar with the situation said checks Thursday of cities near the war’s front lines found no indications of trouble with Starlink coverage. The official spoke on condition they not be further identified.

The 2,200-satellite constellation has been a lifeline for the country since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion, especially vital as Ukraine struggles to keep electrical power and telecommunications operating under withering Russian missile and drone attacks on civilian targets.

In the statement, Fedorov touted the arrival of the first of a new batch of 10,000 terminals provided by the German government, adding: “Starlinks help save thousands of lives daily. The energy infrastructure continues to work due to Starlinks. Doctors perform complex surgeries thanks to the connection that Starlinks provide.”

The Thursday statement called Musk “one of the biggest private donors of our future victory,” estimating SpaceX’s contributions as worth more than $100 million. “We hope for further stable work of Starlinks in Ukraine.”

A Ukrainian military official called Shotwell’s statements “strange” given the well-established fact of the country’s use of Starlink as a combat tool.

Musk caused a stir in October when he publicly called on the Pentagon to take over funding of Starlink’s Ukraine effort.

The billionaire and Twitter owner later backed down. Earlier that month he raised Zelenskyy’s hackles by arguing on Twitter that to achieve peace, Russia should be allowed to keep the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized in 2014. He also said Ukraine should adopt a neutral status, dropping a bid to join NATO.

About the same time, Starlink terminals stopped working in newly liberated territories at the Ukraine-Russia front lines in the Kherson region. Ukrainian officials later said that was because the speed of their reconquest had pushed forces into areas Starlink that had “geo-fenced” to prevent Russia from using the service.

In a late December interview, Fedorov told The Associated Press that 24,000 Starlink terminals were operating in the country, most provided by donors.

AP military writer Tara Copp in Washington contributed to this report.

Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Arizona and New York attorneys feud over extraditing suspect...

Associated Press

Why Alvin Bragg and Rachel Mitchell are fighting over extraditing suspect in New York hotel killing

Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell says she isn't into extraditing a suspect due to her lack of faith in Manhattan’s top prosecutor.

3 days ago

A Gila monster is displayed at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Dec. 14, 2018. A 34-year-old Color...

Associated Press

Colorado man dies after being bitten by pet Gila monster

A Colorado man has died after being bitten by his pet Gila monster in what would be a rare death by one of the desert lizards if the creature's venom turns out to have been the cause.

4 days ago

Police clear the area following a shooting at the Kansas City Chiefs NFL football Super Bowl celebr...

Associated Press

1 dead, many wounded after shooting at Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory parade

One person died after 22 people were hit by gunfire in a shooting at the end of the Kansas Chiefs' Super Bowl victory celebration Wednesday.

11 days ago

This image from House Television shows House Speaker Mike Johnson of La., banging the gavel after h...

Associated Press

GOP-led House impeaches Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas — by one vote — over border management

Having failed to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas the first time, House Republicans are determined to try again Tuesday.

12 days ago

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, right, and Kenya's Defense Minister Aden Duale, left, listen during...

Associated Press

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin hospitalized with bladder issue

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has been hospitalized following symptoms pointing to an “emergent bladder issue."

14 days ago

Joel Osteen, the pastor of Lakewood Church, stands with his wife, Victoria Osteen, as he conducts a...

Associated Press

Woman firing rifle killed by 2 off-duty officers at Houston’s Lakewood Church run by Joel Osteen

A woman entered the Texas megachurch of Joel Osteen and started shooting with a rifle Sunday and was killed by two off-duty officers.

14 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Valley residents should be mindful of plumbing ahead of holidays

With Halloween in the rear-view and more holidays coming up, Day & Night recommends that Valley residents prepare accordingly.

...

Sanderson Ford

The best ways to honor our heroes on Veterans Day and give back to the community

Veterans Day is fast approaching and there's no better way to support our veterans than to donate to the Military Assistance Mission.

Musk deputy’s words on Starlink ‘weaponization’ vex Ukraine