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Elon Musk says Starlink no longer free for Ukraine after insults; asks Pentagon to cover costs

Elon Musk. (Suzanne Cordeiro/For the Austin American-Statesman/TNS)
October 14, 2022

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk indicated on Friday that he can no longer keep providing his Starlink satellite internet service to Ukraine for free, just days after receiving backlash from Ukraine for pitching a peace proposal to end the ongoing Russian invasion.

In one Friday tweet, Musk responded to a Financial Times article about Starlink service interruptions by saying, “Bad reporting by FT. This article falsely claims that Starlink terminals & service were paid for, when only a small percentage have been. This operation has cost SpaceX $80M & will exceed $100M by end of year. As for what’s happening on the battlefield, that’s classified.”

Musk began providing Starlink services to Ukraine for free in March after Russian forces invaded the country days earlier. The service has helped the Ukrainian side maintain critical communications.

According to the Washington Post, the U.S. Department of Defense had been covering some of the costs for the Starlink services for Ukraine.

CNN reported Starlink has since warned the DoD that it can no longer continue providing free services to Ukraine. This news comes days after Musk tweeted out a peace proposal for Ukraine earlier this month that would have entailed them ceding Crimea to Russia, allowing elections to decide whether Russia will control other parts of Ukraine and a commitment for Ukraine to remain neutral between Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

In response to Musk’s proposal, a Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany Andrij Melnyk told Musk to “fuck off.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy implied Musk now supports Russia in the war by tweeting “Which @elonmusk do you like more?” with the choice of “One who supports Ukraine” or “One who supports Russia.”

Musk appeared to suggest a connection between Melynk’s tweet and Starlink’s desires to end free services for Ukraine.

“Elon Musk’s Starlink says it can no longer afford to give Ukraine free service and asks the Pentagon to pay for it,” Kyiv Post correspondent Jason Jay Smart tweeted. “Starlink had been a game changer in the war. This comes days after Ukrainian Ambassador @MelnykAndrij told Musk to ‘fuck off.’”

Musk replied to Smart, tweeting, “We’re just following his recommendation” with a shrugging emoji.

While Musk’s tweet implies Starlink’s recent requests for the Pentagon to pay for Ukraine’s satellite internet services were in reaction to Melnyk’s tweet, CNN reported the company had sent the Pentagon a letter in September letter, notifying them that it could not continue providing services to Ukraine for free.

“We are not in a position to further donate terminals to Ukraine, or fund the existing terminals for an indefinite period of time,” SpaceX’s director of government sales reportedly wrote in September.

According to CNN, the September SpaceX letter asked the Pentagon take to fund Starlink services for Ukraine’s government and military, which they estimated would cost SpaceX more than $120 million for the rest of 2022 and up to $400 million for the next 12 months.