Providing Starlink to Ukraine was Elon Musk’s biggest PR victory. Now he doesn’t even want to do that.

Providing Starlink to Ukraine was Elon Musk’s biggest PR victory. Now he doesn’t even want to do that.

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and the space exploration company SpaceX, loves to take advantage of a good PR stunt. Remember his ridiculous idea to build a submarine to save that Thai boys’ soccer team? When Russia invaded Ukraine and destroyed crucial infrastructure earlier this year, it seemed like Musk was pulling the same shtick when he started talking about providing the war-torn nation with SpaceX‘s Starlink satellite internet.

But then, something incredible happened. Musk actually pulled through and provided fast, reliable communication services to Ukraine’s military and government. Despite recent reports of outages and slowdowns, Ukrainian officials have been vocal about how helpful Starlink has been. For a time, it seemed Musk actually did something good!

Well, it now appears that Musk’s biggest PR victory is coming to an end. According to a new report from CNN, Musk’s SpaceX has informed the Pentagon that it’s looking into ending its funding of Starlink services in Ukraine unless the U.S. government pays up to tens of millions of dollars a month to the company.

In a response to a tweet about the news, Musk attempted to frame the decision as a response to Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, Andrij Melnyk telling the billionaire to “fuck off.” According to Musk’s tweet, he was “just following his recommendation.”  

Musk is referencing a Twitter reply from Melnyk directed at the Tesla CEO’s “peace plan” tweet, which suggested Ukraine make a number of concessions to Russia as part of a deal between the two nations in order to end Russia’s war.

“Fuck off is my very diplomatic reply to you @elonmusk,” tweeted Melnyk to Musk at the time. 

Earlier this week, Ian Bremmer of Eurasia Group alleged that Musk had told him that he spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin prior to tweeting out his “peace plan.” Musk later denied having spoken to Putin about the topic.

But despite Musk’s remark about following Melnyk’s suggestion, SpaceX actually contacted the U.S. government well before Melnyk’s Oct. 3 tweet. According to the CNN report, Musk’s company informed the Pentagon of its plan to stop funding Starlink for Ukraine on Sept. 8.

“We are not in a position to further donate terminals to Ukraine, or fund the existing terminals for an indefinite period of time,” reads the Sept. 8 letter from Starlink’s senior director of government sales. The letter claims the cost for SpaceX was getting to be too high, reaching close to $100 million. SpaceX was looking for $124 million to continue service in Ukraine for the rest of 2022. Musk himself has confirmed the $100 million figure in a tweet.

Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine in February of this year, Musk publicly offered Starlink satellite internet to Ukrainian officials to make up for the loss of cell towers and broadband infrastructure. However, while Ukrainian officials were thanking Musk for his charity, reports broke in April that the U.S. government was actually funding a significant portion of the physical Starlink terminals and their delivery.

SpaceX’s letter to the Pentagon now gives a better look into who is funding Starlink in Ukraine. According to the letter, of the 20,000 Starlink terminals in Ukraine, around 85% were funded by third-parties like countries such as the U.S. and Poland. For SpaceX’s part, the company has covered about 70% of the internet connectivity costs. SpaceX says the terminals costs anywhere from $1,500 to $2,500. Additionally, Starlink’s highest level of service, which is what it provides to Ukraine, costs $4,500 per month.

Of course, this would be far from the first time Musk has asked the government for money. SpaceX has received billions of dollars over the years in government subsidies, so in a way the U.S. was already paying for Starlink for Ukraine. Now, Musk’s just asking for more.

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Matt Binder

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