Musk to stop funding Starlink for Ukraine after envoy tells him to ‘f**k off’

‘We’re just following his recommendation,’ Musk tweets amid outcry over the decision; reports say he has asked Pentagon to start paying for the satellite internet network

Elon Musk speaks at the SATELLITE Conference and Exhibition in Washington on March 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
Elon Musk speaks at the SATELLITE Conference and Exhibition in Washington on March 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Elon Musk said Friday his company SpaceX wouldn’t be able to fund the Starlink satellite internet network over Ukraine indefinitely, amid reports he had asked the US military to cover the costs.

The move comes as Musk has been embroiled in public spats with Ukranian leaders who were angered by his controversial proposals for de-escalating the conflict, which included acknowledging Russian sovereignty over Crimea.

Starlink, a constellation of over 3,000 small satellites in low Earth orbit, has been vital to Ukraine’s war effort against Russia, with SpaceX donating some 25,000 ground terminals, according to an updated figure given by Musk last week.

In a series of tweets, the world’s richest man appeared to confirm a report by CNN saying he had written to the Pentagon warning that his financial contributions would come to an end, and that they would need to foot the bill.

“SpaceX is not asking to recoup past expenses, but also cannot fund the existing system indefinitely *and* send several thousand more terminals that have data usage up to 100X greater than typical households,” he tweeted.

“This is unreasonable.”

Illustrative: A procession of Starlink satellites crossing the night sky. (YouTube screen capture)

Musk said the operation has already cost SpaceX $80 million and is projected to exceed $100 million by the end of the year.

But CNN said SpaceX figures shared with the Pentagon show about 85 percent of the first 20,000 terminals in Ukraine were paid at least in part by countries like the US, Poland, or other entities.

They also paid for about 30 percent of internet connectivity.

Following his recommendation

In overnight replies on Twitter on Friday, Musk expanded on the logistics of the operation.

“In addition to terminals, we have to create, launch, maintain & replenish satellites & ground stations & pay telcos for access to Internet via gateways,” he said.

“We’ve also had to defend against cyberattacks & jamming, which are getting harder. Burn is approaching ~$20M/month.”

Musk has recently been in a spat with Ukrainian officials including President Volodymyr Zelensky after suggesting a peace deal that involved re-running controversial referenda in Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine.

Musk’s proposals were welcomed by Russia.

In response, Kyiv’s ambassador to Germany Andriy Melnyk weighed in, telling Musk to “fuck off.”

“We’re just following his recommendation,” Musk tweeted Friday, along with the shrug emoji.

According to CNN, SpaceX documents sent to the Pentagon said Ukraine had asked for 8,000 more Starlink terminals in July.

The Financial Times meanwhile has reported Starlink outages hit Ukrainian forces on the frontline, hindering their ability to liberate Russian-controlled areas in the east of the country, but the situation later improved.

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