Ukrainska Pravda: Elon Musk shutting off Starlink communications disrupted Ukrainian attack on Russian navy

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SpaceX founder Elon Musk shut down communications with the Starlink satellite system preventing Ukraine from carrying out a naval drone attack against Russian ships in Sept. 2022, Ukrainian Pravda reported on Jan. 1, citing its sources.

Ukraine attempted to strike Russian ships in Sevastopol Bay on the night of Sept. 16-17, 2022, but control over the drones via Starlink satellites broke down 70 kilometers from the target.

According to Ukrainian Pravda’s source, who was part of the operation, this was due to a decision by Musk.

“Elon Musk turned off the Starlinks, through which we controlled the drones,” the source said, according to Ukrainian Pravda.

Another source claimed that Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov’s attempts to convince Musk to switch communications back on failed and that Washington was also unable to pressure the billionaire as SpaceX, which operates Starlink, is a private company.

Most of the drones then sank in the sea or self-destructed on the way to the bay, according to the Brigadier General of the Secret Service of Ukraine (SBU) military counterintelligence. Two drones made it back to the Ukrainian side.

Following the failure, Ukraine modified its naval drones and successfully carried out an attack in Sevastopol Bay in October 2022.

There have been several allegations against Musk for deliberately disrupting the operation. But he has denied deactivating the system near Crimea, saying that it was not initially active in the region and therefore could not be turned on for a Ukrainian military operation without permission from the U.S. president.

"The sanctions include Crimea, and we are not allowed to turn on the connection to a sanctioned country without explicit government approval," he said at the All-In Summit in Los Angeles on Sept. 12.

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.”

On Sept. 11, 2023, 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.SpaceX began providing the Starlink satellite internet system to Ukraine shortly after the Russian full-scale invasion in February 2022.

Read also: FT: Musk gave his biographer confidential messages with Ukraine’s Minister Fedorov without permission

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