Elon Musk used Starlink, which saved Ukraine, to thwart a Ukrainian attack on Russia's Crimea fleet

Ukrainian soldier sets up Starlink terminal
(Image credit: Maxym Marusenko / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

An hour before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, Russian hackers disabled the commercial satellite network Ukraine and its military relied on to communicate, leaving the country largely unable to mount a defense. Elon Musk stepped in, and within days, Starlink terminals were arriving in Ukraine, getting key parts of the country back online.

Russian hackers have been unable to disrupt Starlink's network, and 18 months later, "Starlink is indeed the blood of our entire communication infrastructure now" and "one of the fundamental components our our success," Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine's digital minister, told The New York Times in July. A deputy field commander told the Times that "without Starlink, we cannot fly, we cannot communicate."

But Musk — who can single-handedly turn on or off Starlink internet service anywhere in the world — has also used that power to thwart Ukraine's efforts to retake land seized by Russia, Walter Isaacson wrote in The Washington Post on Thursday, in an excerpt from his biography of Musk.

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The Times reported in July that Musk had rejected a Ukrainian request to extend Starlink service to Russian-occupied Crimea to enable a major sneak attack on Russia's Black Sea fleet with explosives-laden drone submarines. Isaacson, citing conversations with Musk, reported that the mercurial billionaire personally stepped in to foil the in-progress attack by secretly telling "his engineers to turn off coverage within 100 kilometers of the Crimean coast. As a result, when the Ukrainian drone subs got near the Russian fleet in Sevastopol, they lost connectivity and washed ashore harmlessly."

"Musk thwarted what might have been a decisive military operation to shorten the Russian war against Ukraine, save who knows how many lives and put an end to the Russian food blockade of poor countries in Africa and Asia," David Frum wrote on Musk's X, formerly Twitter. "All while a U.S. government contractor."

After the Crimea intervention, Musk decided Starlink wouldn't aid any Ukrainian counteroffensive operations. Learn how he and the Pentagon resolved those qualms and kept Ukraine online at The Washington Post, and read The New York Times on why some governments — notably Taiwan — won't use Starlink.

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.