Company asks US military to cough up for the critical satellite system.
Elon Musk said on Friday he’s “just following the recommendation” of a Ukrainian diplomat who told the SpaceX founder to “fuck off,” by seeking to offload responsibility for funding his Starlink internet terminals in Ukraine.
Musk’s trolling came after Ukraine’s former Ambassador to Germany Andrij Melnyk and the country’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reacted with hostility to Musk last week tweeting a series of Kremlin talking points, which he presented as a plan for peace in Russia’s war on Ukraine. This raised concerns in Kyiv and among its allies as to whether Musk was still on Ukraine’s side in the war.
Musk’s tweet came in response to a CNN report that SpaceX had warned in a letter, dated September 8 and sent to the U.S. Department of Defense, that it can no longer afford to provide its Starlink terminals, which are crucial for Ukraine’s military communication.
“We are not in a position to further donate terminals to Ukraine, or fund the existing terminals for an indefinite period of time,” SpaceX said in the letter, which was signed by the company’s director of government sales, adding that the Pentagon should take over the funding.
The Starlink satellite communication system has been crucial not only for Ukraine’s military communication, but also for the government to maintain contact with commanders, for Zelenskyy to conduct interviews with journalists, and for civilian communications, connecting loved ones via the encrypted satellites.
Funding the systems would cost more than $120 million for the rest of the year and the price tag could reach almost $400 million for the next 12 months, according to SpaceX.
Ukraine has received around 20,000 Starlink satellite units. Musk said last week that the “operation has cost SpaceX $80 million and will exceed $100 million by the end of the year.”
Musk was initially lauded for providing the Starlink terminals to Ukraine, but according to the SpaceX letter, the vast majority were partially or fully funded by other parties, including the U.S. government, the U.K. and Poland. Poland is the largest single contributor and has paid for almost 9,000 terminals, which cost $1,500 and $2,500 for the two models sent to Ukraine, according to the documents.
Those governments also paid for a third of the internet connectivity while SpaceX funded the rest, making up the more expensive part of the bill, according to SpaceX.
Among the documents seen by CNN is also a request from Ukrainian General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi to SpaceX for almost 8,000 more Starlink terminals. SpaceX reportedly responded by recommending the request be sent to the U.S. Department of Defense.
The spat comes shortly after recent reports of Starlink outages, which have disrupted crucial Ukrainian military communication on the front lines.