Billionaire Elon Musk has said his space exploration company SpaceX cannot “indefinitely” fund the Starlink internet service in war-hit Ukraine, days after a proposal to end the conflict that included the country ceding some territory to Russia called his support into question.
“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. This is unreasonable,” Musk said on Twitter.
Musk activated Starlink, a satellite internet service operated by SpaceX, in late February after Ukraine’s internet services were disrupted due to Russia’s invasion. Its internet terminals have been crucial in keeping the Ukrainian military online.
Musk said Starlink was spending nearly $20m a month – which he called a “burn” – for maintaining satellite services in Ukraine. He recently said SpaceX had spent about $80m to enable and support Starlink in Ukraine.
CNN reported on Thursday that SpaceX had sent a letter to the Pentagon last month saying it may have to stop funding the service unless the United States military helped with tens of millions of dollars a month.
One of Musk’s tweets suggested the move may also be a response to harsh criticism following his proposed “peace” plan.
While Ukraine has long maintained it will never agree to cede land taken by force, Musk suggested that it permanently cede the Crimea region to Russia, that new referendums be held under United Nations auspices to determine the fate of Russian-controlled territory, and that Ukraine agree to neutrality.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was among those who criticised Musk’s proposal.
Ukraine’s outgoing ambassador to Germany, Andrij Melnyk, also condemned it in blunt terms. “F*** off is my very diplomatic reply to you @elonmusk,” he said on Twitter.
Responding to a post referring to the fate of the Starlink service and the ambassador’s remark, Musk said: “We’re just following his recommendation.”
The disruption of the service may have dire consequences for Ukraine. Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov said this week Starlink services helped restore energy and communications infrastructure in critical areas after more than 100 Russian cruise missile attacks.
Encrypted satellite messages have been used for military communications after the local mobile phone network was severed during heavy shelling. Musk was given the greenlight by the US government to activate the satellite internet service Starlink to help Iranians protesting against the death of a woman in police custody. The move follows deadly protests across Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old who died after being detained by “morality police” over the way she was wearing her headscarf.