Elon Musk apparently got cold feet about his Starlink satellite internet network being used to facilitate a surprise drone attack by the Ukrainian military on the Russian navy in Crimea last year, reported CNN.
The incident, which is reportedly documented in the writer Walter Isaacson’s forthcoming biography Elon Musk, happened because Musk was concerned about, in his words, a “mini-Pearl Harbor.” Musk ordered the shutoff while Ukrainian submarine drones packed with explosives approached Russian ships. The drones then “lost connectivity and washed ashore harmlessly,” Isaacson writes.
Musk was worried about Russia retaliating to the attack with nuclear weapons.
Starlink, part of Musk’s company SpaceX, provides high-speed internet connectivity in remote areas. Musk initially donated the service to the Ukrainian military in the early days of the war, after much of their battle-field internet infrastructure was destroyed.
According to a report in the New Yorker, Musk was suspected of geofencing the service so that the network would be cut when Ukrainian soldiers breached the frontlines into Russian territory. Concerns over that led to negotiations between the Defense Department and SpaceX to establish a contractual basis for Musk’s provision of the service, though Musk still complained about funding the Ukrainian government for free on X.
Musk also allegedly bemoaned his service being used to wage war, as some alleged he’d developed sympathies for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Now, some X users are now wondering if Musk’s decision to cut off the Starlink access was influenced by an interaction with Ian Miles Cheong, a far-right poster based in Malaysia who frequently has the billionaire’s ear, or at least shows up in this timeline.
“I wonder where Elon got the idea to shut down Starlink on the frontlines?” asked @P_Kallioniemi, posting a screenshot of an interaction between Cheong and Musk in October.
“I’ve been up all night trying to think of any possible way to de-escalate this war,” Musk wrote on X on Oct. 9, 2022.
“Might be a good idea to take Starlink offline for the terminals used on the frontlines,” Cheong replied. “Could encourage them to reconsider their position on advancing towards Crimea and leading the world further into the brink of total war.”
The CNN report does not detail when the drone attack that got cut off occurred.
Cheong posted frequently about the Starlink network being used for offensive military capabilities before Musk reportedly cut off the network.
“Elon Musk should shut off Ukraine’s access to Starlink because it’s clear they intend to wage forever war at the cost of civilian lives instead of finding a way to arrive at peace,” Cheong posted in October. “They are not interested in deescalation and I’m not interested in nuclear Armageddon.”
“I wonder how Elon Musk feels about his Starlink system being used to bomb Russian soldiers,” Cheong wrote in March.
In February, Musk wrote that Starlink was the “communication backbone” for Ukraine, “[b]ut we will not enable escalation of conflict that may lead to WW3.”
“People are so goofy for trying to force you to take part in this conflict,” Cheong replied. “Starlink is a civilian tool and should not be used for war.”
According to the new CNN report, Musk’s handling of the situation made Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president “livid.”
“The Pentagon had a $145 million check ready to hand to me, literally,” Shotwell told Isaacson. “Then Elon succumbed to the bullshit on Twitter and to the haters at the Pentagon who leaked the story.”
“How am I in this war?” Musk asked Isaacson. “Starlink was not meant to be involved in wars. It was so people can watch Netflix and chill and get online for school and do good peaceful things, not drone strikes.”