- WASHINGTON POST
Pentagon Discloses It’s Paying for Elon Musk’s Starlink Internet in Ukraine
14:22 JST, June 3, 2023
The Pentagon disclosed on Thursday that it has signed a contract to provide SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet service in Ukraine, nearly eight months after Elon Musk, the company’s owner, threatened to terminate access unless the U.S. government paid for it.
The Defense Department acknowledged the decision but withheld virtually all details about the agreement, including how much it will cost U.S. taxpayers and when the contract was signed. U.S. defense officials had previously estimated that the annual cost for Starlink in Ukraine, which Musk mostly had been donating, will be hundreds of millions of dollars.
“Satellite communications constitute a vital layer in Ukraine’s overall communications network and the department contracts with Starlink for services of this type,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “However, for operational security reasons and due to the critical nature of these systems – we do not have additional information regarding specific capabilities, contracts or partners to provide at this time.”
Though terms of the deal remain a mystery, it would appear to be a windfall for Musk, whose $44 billion acquisition of Twitter last year has been a colossal bust thus far. A Fidelity mutual fund estimated in a report released this week that the social media company may have lost two-thirds of its value.
Officials with SpaceX did not respond to an email requesting comment about the contract, which was first reported by Bloomberg News. Musk did not respond to questions when contacted through Twitter.
Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, Starlink has become a lifeline for its government, armed forces and other essential operations such as hospitals. Musk, one of the world’s richest people, provided thousands of Starlink terminals, but as the conflict has endured, he has expressed concern about the technology being used for military purposes.
“We’re trying hard to do the right thing, where the ‘right thing’ is an extremely difficult moral question,” Musk wrote on Twitter in February. In October, Musk had suggested, also in a tweet, that SpaceX could not continue to cover the cost of Starlink in Ukraine. His musings sparked an uproar.
“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,” Musk wrote then, adding, “This is unreasonable.”
A day later, Musk struck a different tone.
“The hell with it . . . even though Starlink is still losing money & other companies are getting billions of taxpayer $, we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt free,” he tweeted. After someone responded to his tweet with the saying “No good deed goes unpunished,” Musk responded: “Even so, we should still do good deeds.”
SpaceX had previously cast the provision of terminals as a humanitarian gesture, and has offered Starlink to other countries after disasters. But the U.S. Agency for International Development also has purchased some Starlink equipment and paid to send it to Ukraine, according to documents previously obtained by The Washington Post.
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