Ukrainian presidential adviser says deaths of civilians ‘the price of a cocktail of ignorance and big ego’ 

Pjotr Sauer

8 September 2023

The Guardian


A senior Ukrainian official has accused Elon Musk of “committing evil” after a new biography revealed details about how the business magnate ordered his Starlink satellite communications network to be turned off near the Crimean coast last year to hobble a Ukrainian drone attack on Russian warships. In a statement on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, which Musk owns, the Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak wrote that Musk’s interference led to the deaths of civilians, calling them “the price of a cocktail of ignorance and big ego”. “By not allowing Ukrainian drones to destroy part of the Russian fleet via Starlink interference, Musk allowed this fleet to fire Kalibr missiles at Ukrainian cities. As a result, civilians and children are being killed,” Podolyak wrote. “Why do some people so desperately want to defend war criminals and their desire to commit murder? And do they now realise that they are committing evil and encouraging evil?”

Musk defended his decision, saying he did not want his SpaceX company to be “explicitly complicit in a major act of war and conflict escalation”. CNN on Thursday quoted an excerpt from the biography Elon Musk by Walter Isaacson, which described how armed submarine drones were approaching a Russian fleet near the Crimean coast when they “lost connectivity and washed ashore harmlessly”.

The biography, due out on Tuesday, alleges Musk ordered Starlink engineers to turn off the service in the area of the attack because of his concern that Vladimir Putin would respond with nuclear weapons to a Ukrainian attack on Russian-occupied Crimea. Also on Friday, Ukrainian deputy prime minister Mykhailo Fedorov told the Financial Times that Musk shared with Isaacson confidential exchanges about military access to Starlink without permission from Fedorov. “It’s not very pretty,” Fedorov told the Financial Times.  “I’ve never shown or talked about our correspondence publicly.”

Musk, who is also the CEO of the Tesla electric car company and SpaceX rocket and spacecraft manufacturer, initially agreed to supply Starlink hardware to Ukraine after Russia’s full-scale invasion disrupted Ukrainian communications. But he reportedly had second thoughts after Kyiv succeeded in repelling the initial Russian assault and began to counterattack. Musk has previously been embroiled in a social media spat with Ukrainian officials including the president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, over his ideas for ending Russia’s invasion.

In October last year, Musk proposed a peace deal involving re-running under UN supervision annexation referendums in Moscow-occupied Ukrainian regions, acknowledging Russian sovereignty over the Crimean peninsula and giving Ukraine a neutral status. Preliminary analysis suggests that the reach and influence of Kremlin-backed accounts has grown further in the first

half of 2023, driven in particular by the dismantling of Twitter’s safety standards. The EU has also accused Musk’s X of allowing Russian propaganda about Ukraine to spread on its website.

A study released last week by the European Commission, the governing body of the European Union, found that “the reach and influence of Kremlin-backed accounts has grown further in the first half of 2023.” The study said that the increased reach of Russian propaganda online was “largely driven by Twitter, where engagement grew by 36% after CEO Elon Musk decided to lift mitigation measures on Kremlin-backed accounts”. Musk on Friday attempted to refute the EU study, writing on his social media platform: “Where is all this pro-Russian propaganda? We don’t see it.”