Elon Musk U-turns, says will keep funding Starlink in Ukraine

Founder of SpaceX says although Starlink is losing money, he will ‘just keep funding Ukraine gov’t for free’, a day after suggesting he cannot.

Elon Musk
Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, has been embroiled in public spats with Ukrainian leaders angered by his controversial proposals for de-escalating the conflict [File: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg]

Elon Musk has announced his company will continue to pay for Starlink satellite internet services in war-torn Ukraine a day after suggesting he cannot keep funding the project.

“The hell with it,” the world’s richest man wrote on Saturday on Twitter.

“Even though Starlink is still losing money & other companies are getting billions of taxpayer $, we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free.”

Although it was not immediately clear whether Musk’s change of mind was genuine, he later appeared to indicate it was. When a Twitter user told Musk “No good deed goes unpunished”, he replied, “Even so, we should still do good deeds”.

A day earlier, Musk had said on Twitter that SpaceX would not be able to pay for Starlink in Ukraine indefinitely. And the US military confirmed it was communicating with the billionaire’s company about funding for the critical network.

The discussions come as Musk has been embroiled in public spats with Ukrainian leaders who were angered by his controversial proposals for de-escalating the conflict.

While Ukraine has long maintained it will never agree to relinquish land taken by force, Musk suggested that it permanently cede the Crimea region to Russia, that new referendums be held under United Nations auspices to determine the fate of Russian-controlled territory, and that Ukraine agree to neutrality.

Starlink, a constellation of more than 3,000 small satellites in low Earth orbit, has been vital to Ukraine’s communications as it fights against Russia’s invasion.

Musk activated Starlink in late February after Ukraine’s internet services were disrupted because of Russia’s invasion. Its internet terminals have since been crucial in keeping the Ukrainian military online.

SpaceX has donated some 25,000 ground terminals to Ukraine, according to an updated figure given by Musk last week.

The disruption of the service may have dire consequences for Ukraine. Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov said this week that Starlink services helped restore energy and communications infrastructure in critical areas after more than 100 Russian cruise missile attacks.

Encrypted satellite messages have been used for military communications after the local mobile phone network was severed during heavy shelling.

Mykola Balaban, the deputy head of the Ukraine Centre for Strategic Communications and Information Security, told Al Jazeera that Musk’s support is crucial for Ukrainian military efforts.

“For the last six months, Ukraine has showed very good strategic communication,” he added. “Of course there is sometimes lags in the communication and some misunderstanding, but at the end of the day, as you see with this tweet [from Musk], we managed to communicate to our partners around the world the importance of supporting Ukraine and Ukrainian people in their fight against the war from Russia.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies