Elon Musk is a technology genius but a geopolitical problem. He’s hugely rich, erratic, and desperately seeks attention. He recently endorsed an antisemitic statement on his “X” social media, then used the “F” word on TV against advertisers who objected. Most worrisome to some is that his spaceflight company, Space X, has exclusive contracts with the U.S. government worth billions and controls Starlink, thousands of satellites that provide internet access globally. This has become an important planetary infrastructure upon which millions of people depend, and an incident in 2022 illustrates why this company should be regulated and not be in the hands of a single individual like Musk. This fall, the public found out that, one year ago, Musk sabotaged a drone attack by Ukraine against Russian ships in Crimea by denying use of his Starlink access. A Pentagon official encapsulated how unacceptable this was. "Elon Musk hasn't been elected, no one decided to give him that power. He has it because of the technology and company he built."
Tycoon at a Gala with Mommy
Details about the 2022 Crimea debacle are tangled but conclusions are simple: Musk is clearly a security risk, is naïve, and has worrisome links to the Russian regime. It also demonstrates the need for an international 21st century version of anti-trust protection. In 1911, John Rockefeller’s global oil empire was broken up because it abused its monopolistic position by bullying or denying services to competitors or customers who wouldn’t comply with his wishes. In this case, Musk provided Starlink to Kyiv in February 2022 after it was invaded, saving it from immediate Russian occupation. But in September 2022, he was convinced by Kremlin operatives to withhold service in order to prevent an attack by Ukrainians on their Black Sea fleet. He justified his decision as necessary because he said Russians told him the attack would result in “nuclear” war — an outcome which, by the way, hasn’t happened despite the fact that Ukrainians have repeatedly attacked Russia’s Black Sea fleet since then. Fortunately, the Pentagon has since contracted Starlink’s services access over Ukraine and now calls the shots.
The Musk incident came to light in September 2023, one year after it happened, in excerpts published by The Washington Post from a newly-released Musk biography written by academic Walter Isaacson. According to the author: "The Ukrainian military was attempting a sneak attack on the Russian naval fleet based at Sevastopol in Crimea by sending six small drone submarines packed with explosives, and it was using Starlink to guide them to the target. Musk had spoken [about this] to the Russian ambassador to the United States... [who] had explicitly told him that a Ukrainian attack on Crimea would lead to a nuclear response. Musk secretly told 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 said Isaacson’s account — that he “told his engineers to turn off coverage” — was inaccurate. Instead, he recalled that “the Starlink regions in question were not activated. SpaceX did not deactivate anything.” But the clarification didn’t change the fact that Musk divulged private client (Ukraine) information about an attack to a Russian ahead of time. Worse he either pulled the plug or refused to activate service because he sided with Russia. Musk also told several individuals that he spoke directly with Putin, but has since denied that.
But just days after the book excerpts came out, Musk was publicly praised by Putin as an “outstanding person” and businessman. Then Moscow’s ex-president and senior security official Dmitry Medvedev waded in. “(Musk) was concerned about a retaliatory nuclear strike,” he wrote. “If what Isaacson has written in his book is true, then it looks like Musk is the last adequate mind in North America." Further, Medvedev tweeted that foreign-born Musk would become the next US President over what is left of the “disintegrating” United States. Musk responded to the tweet-bait which made it even more embarrassing, wrote the Daily Beast in a piece entitled “Russia celebrates turning Elon Musk into a Useful Idiot”.
Musk on Joe Rogan podcast smoking weed
Isaacson spent two years with Musk and his biography sheds light on his mentality. For example, Musk asked the author, after the Crimea controversy, “how am I this war? Starlink was not meant to be involved in wars. It was so people can watch Netflix and chill and get online for school and do good peaceful things, not drone strikes.” But his statement was disingenuous: Both Musk and Starlink have been up to their armpits in the Russia-Ukraine war since it began after Russia invaded in February 2022. Back then, Ukraine’s telecommunications infrastructure was being destroyed so Kyiv reached out to Starlink by going on “X” and asking Musk to activate his satellite system for use across Ukraine. Musk immediately tweeted back: “Service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals enroute.”
Tens of thousands of Starlink “kits” were bought which include a receiver satellite dish, tripod, and Wi-Fi router to connect laptops and smartphones to the Internet. Starlink’s decentralized system of tens of thousands of small receivers enabled Ukrainians to do a workaround and save their nation. Once installed quickly, Ukrainians were able to locate the enemy, organize resistance, and communicate via a system that was so widely dispersed that the Russians could not destroy it with rockets or missiles.
A Ukrainian soldier in winter 2022 and Starlink receiver
It all worked smoothly until the Crimea denial-of-service scandal which enraged Ukrainians and allies. Musk’s attempt to recast his denial of service regarding Crimea as a way to save the world from nuclear attack was roundly rejected on September 7 by Zelensky’s advisor Mykhailo Podolyak. “By not allowing Ukrainian drones to destroy part of the Russian military fleet via Starlink interference, Elon Musk allowed this fleet to fire Kalibr missiles at Ukrainian cities. As a result, civilians, children are being killed. This is the price of a cocktail of ignorance and big ego. However, the question still remains: Why do some people so desperately want to defend war criminals and their desire to commit murder? And do they now realize that they are committing evil and encouraging evil?”
After the drone dust-up, Musk posted his own “peace plan” on “X” to stop the war which simply parroted Putin’s proposal to let Russia keep what it has stolen since 2014. He then launched a Twitter poll asking citizens of occupied areas in eastern Ukraine, recently annexed by the Kremlin, to decide if they wanted to live in Russia or Ukraine. “The survey comes as Ukraine, Europe and the US denounce President Vladimir Putin’s move to annex four regions and declare them Russian territory,” wrote Bloomberg. Musk also urged them to vote by stating that Russia would honor their wishes, as if that would ever happen. One year later, the European Commission published a report showing that “X” played a significant role in spreading Russian propaganda.
Since Musk’s foray into foreign affairs and public surveying, “X” has fallen to a value of only $19 billion, down from the $44 billion Musk paid for it in October 2022. Criticism has been brutal and deserved.
First Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine
The fallout from Musk’s behavior has also upset Washington. US Senator Elizabeth Warren called for an investigation into Musk’s actions. Congress should investigate, she said, as to “whether we have adequate tools to make sure foreign policy is conducted by the government and not by one billionaire”.
The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.
Reprinted from [email protected] - Diane Francis on America and the World
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