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Elon Musk says he limited Ukraine’s Starlink to prevent attack on Russia

Elon Musk has affirmed that he effectively halted a Ukrainian military strike on Russia by refusing to grant permission for Starlink's use in the operation. The billionaire asserts that this decision was made to avoid complicity in a significant act of war. However, it also raises significant questions about the influence of wealthy individuals in military affairs.

According to a forthcoming biography by Walter Isaacson, CNN initially reported this news. In the book, Musk recounts an incident in 2022 when Ukraine planned an assault on Russia's navy near Crimea.

The vessels and marine drones slated for this attack depended on Starlink for connectivity, but the satellite internet service, as Musk later stated on Twitter, was not operational over the region. When Ukraine urgently requested activation, he declined, resulting in the drones losing connectivity and drifting ashore harmlessly, leaving the Russian ships untouched.

In essence, a government sought a service from a private company, and the company's leader deemed it inappropriate and refused. This illustrates the inherent risk of relying on a private service for military operations. Musk played a role akin to a mercenary or arms dealer, albeit one not directly involved in violence. (Russia would soon face a similar situation when the Wagner Group advanced on Moscow.)

However, in a more concerning interpretation of events, an American billionaire unilaterally made a military decision for a foreign ally. While such occurrences may have transpired in the past, few technologies from outside the military-industrial complex have risen to prominence as swiftly as Starlink, largely due to Musk's endorsement for use by Ukraine following Russia's invasion.

The intricacies of geopolitical calculations are beyond the scope of this article, but it's difficult not to question whether it is appropriate for Musk to offer a critical service to support Ukraine, only to retract it at his own discretion.

Musk justified his decision, stating, "If I had agreed to their request, then SpaceX would be explicitly complicit in a major act of war and conflict escalation."

While this perspective holds its validity, like many of the CEO's statements, it lacks important context.

Setting aside that Starlink had already played a pivotal role in numerous military actions, Musk's assertion that this would have equated to a "mini-Pearl Harbor" is dubious. By this time, Ukraine and Russia were in open warfare, sparked by the latter's invasion. Comparing a counterattack against an aggressor in a serious and ongoing conflict to the infamous sneak attack that drew the U.S. into World War II is, at best, ill-informed. Given Musk's proposals for the conflict's resolution involving concessions to Russia, it feels more disingenuous.

It is simply untenable for Musk's personal opinion on how a conflict should unfold to be the sole determinant of how Starlink is utilized in warfare. Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to the Ukrainian Prime Minister's office, expressed on Twitter after the story broke:

"Sometimes a mistake is much more than just a mistake. By not allowing Ukrainian drones to destroy part of the Russian military (!) fleet via #Starlink interference, @elonmusk allowed this fleet to fire Kalibr missiles at Ukrainian cities. As a result, civilians, children are being killed. This is the price of a cocktail of ignorance and big ego."

Is Musk willing to make the value judgment of whether preventing an attack on Russian equipment is worth the inevitable cost in Ukrainian lives? Because that is the position he has placed himself in: deciding who should live in a war taking place on the opposite side of the world.

It's not difficult to envision Musk believing himself capable of this, but it wouldn't be the first time he overestimated his own competence. The question isn't whether he can make the choice, but whether he, or anyone in a similar position of civilian or commercial power, should be allowed to do so.

Garry Kasparov, former world Chess champion and now a prominent activist, provided a succinct summary:

"SpaceX & Starlink are marvelous, but if Musk's delusional 'anti-war' agenda leads him to interfere with their services to Russia's advantage, it's a huge risk."

The situation Musk confronted was unprecedented at the time, but it no longer is. Those accustomed to life-and-death decisions will likely find ways to bypass an intervening foreign oligarch in the decision-making process.

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