Billionaire Elon Musk says his Starlink satellite service is “just following the recommendation” of a Ukrainian official who told him to “f*** off”, amid warnings the war-ravaged country could lose access to the system.
On Thursday, CNN revealed that Mr Musk’s company SpaceX, which manufactures the Starlink units, had written to the US Department of Defence saying it could not continue to fund the service for Ukraine.
It asked the Pengatgon to take over funding for the project at a cost of tens of millions of dollars per month – and almost $US400 million over the next year.
“We are not in a position to further donate terminals to Ukraine, or fund the existing terminals for an indefinite period of time,” said the letter, written in September.
This is a serious matter for the Ukrainian war effort, which has been affected by Starlink outages in recent weeks. One source told CNN the satellite system was “the main way units on the battlefield have to co-ordinate”.
About 20,000 Starlink units have been donated to Ukraine so far. According to Mr Musk, that has cost SpaceX $US80 million.
His latest public remark on the matter came in response to a social media post from Kyiv Post correspondent Jason Smart.
“Elon Musk’s Starlink says it can no longer afford to give Ukraine free service and asks the Pentagon to pay for it. Starlink had been a game changer in the war,” Smart wrote on Twitter on Friday.
“This comes days after Ukrainian Ambassador Andrij Melnyk told Musk to ‘f*** off’.”
“We’re just following his recommendation,” Mr Musk replied, adding a shrug emoji.
Mr Melnyk, Ukraine’s current Ambassador to Germany, did indeed tell Mr Musk to “f*** off” earlier this month after the Tesla and SpaceX boss posted his proposal for a “peace” between Russia and Ukraine on Twitter.
Mr Musk suggested fresh elections, under supervision from the United Nations, in the regions of Ukraine recently annexed by Russia; letting Russia keep the Crimean Peninsula (which was annexed a decade ago); and having Ukraine remain “neutral”. That is to say, removing the prospect of it joining the NATO alliance.
The billionaire polled his millions of followers, who rejected the idea by a 60-40 margin.
“F*** off is my very diplomatic reply to you Elon Musk,” said Mr Melnyk.
Since then, Mr Musk has been forced to deny he spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin before posting his proposed solution.
“I have spoken to Putin only once, and that was about 18 months ago. The subject matter was space,” he said after Ian Bremmer, head of a consultancy firm, alleged Mr Musk had told him about a conversation with the Russian leader.
Mr Bremmer alleged Putin had told Mr Musk he was “prepared to negotiate” if Crimea remained under his control, Ukraine accepted permanent neutrality, and Ukraine recognised Russia’s sovereignty over Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.
Russia’s horrifying tactic in Ukraine
This all comes amid unsettling revelations from a United Nations envoy, who has alleged Russian forces used rape and sexual assaults as a “military strategy” and “deliberate tactic to dehumanise” their victims.
Rapes and sexual assaults attributed to Moscow’s forces in Ukraine are part of a Russian “military strategy” and a “deliberate tactic to dehumanise the victims”, UN envoy Pramila Patten told AFP in an interview.
“All the indications are there,” Pramila Patten, UN special representative on sexual violence, told AFP in an interview.
“When women are held for days and raped, when you start to rape little boys and men, when you see a series of genital mutilations, when you hear women testify about Russian soldiers equipped with Viagra, it’s clearly a military strategy.
“And when the victims report what was said during the rapes, it is clearly a deliberate tactic to dehumanise the victims.”
The United Nations has verified “more than a hundred cases” of rape or sexual assault in Ukraine since Russia invaded in February, Ms Patten said, referring to a UN report released in late September.
The report “confirmed crimes against humanity committed by the Russian forces, and according to gathered testimonies, the age of the victims of sexual violence ranges from four to 82-years-old,” she said.
The victims are mostly women and girls, but also men and boys. And “reported cases are only the tip of the iceberg,” she added.
“It’s very difficult to have reliable statistics during an active conflict, and the numbers will never reflect reality, because sexual violence is a silent crime” that is largely underreported, she said.
– with AFP