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SpaceX board member Steve Jurvetson holding a Starlink user terminal. Wikipedia

Will Elon Musk be the game changer in Ukraine?

Tesla founder Elon Musk is once again becoming an important military factor in the Ukrainian theater of war. Musk has decided to take around 1 300 of his Starlink satellites, which previously covered the territory of Ukraine, off the grid due to financing problems.

Published: November 20, 2022, 7:30 am

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    This is a heavy blow for the Ukrainian military as well as for the Kiev government. Early in the war, Musk had provided Ukraine with thousands of Starlink mobile terminals, which the government used to keep its communications open.

    More importantly, the Starlink network was often the only means of communication for the Ukrainian military, and thanks to additionally developed software, the Ukrainian units were able to record great success in engaging Russian targets using Starlink.

    “Starlink helped us a lot when it came to the blockades in our cities and occupied territories. Sometimes we completely lost touch with those regions,” Ukrainian President Zelensky told Business Insider.

    But that seems over now. Due to funding problems, Musk’s space company SpaceX took 1 300 satellites offline. Musk is demanding $2 500 per terminal from the Ukrainian military to keep them running. The total cost increased to 20 million US dollars. The result: the Ukrainian military can no longer – or does not want to – bear these costs.

    SpaceX said it has already spent $100 million funding Starlink in Ukraine and will not do so again. The Pentagon should therefore take over a larger part of the financing. But the Pentagon also recently refused to pay for the costs. Negotiations on the matter are still ongoing.

    Musk had recently made himself unpopular with the Ukrainian government with his peace plan. This provided for the cession of territory and the repetition of referendums in the areas attached to Russia under UN supervision. Kiev responded with outrage and personal threats.

    Before the Midterm elections in the US, Musk had urged “independent-minded” Americans to vote for the Republican Party.

    Musk’s Republican leaning or fading energy?

    The Ukrainian government has meanwhile warned its Western allies that Kiev would not be able to secure heat and power due to intensified Russian attacks on its energy grid, according to sources. Without energy, Starlink becomes more or less useless.

    Ukraine, which is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, according to European anti-corruption officials, thus remains a bottomless pit. Not only are weapons from the West and even aid supplies being diverted to the black market on a large scale – even gigantic money transfers from the West are simply disappearing.

    In March, the Kiev government launched a fundraising campaign for all supporters of Ukraine with the bankrupt crypto provider FTX. The funds were then supposed go to the Ukrainian National Bank and be invested there on the one hand for humanitarian aid and on the other hand in military armaments.

    A rumor is circulating in US financial circles that enormous sums of additional unofficial US military aid for the Ukrainian government were laundered at FTX. Kiev is said not only to have repeatedly speculated with the aid money “in the short term”, but also to have invested billions in FTX in the long term.

    Shortly after the start of the campaign, the news platform CoinDesk reported in March that 48 million euros were donated within just a few hours after the start of “Aid for Ukraine”. Since then, industry experts speculate, much larger sums may have flowed into the coffers of the corrupt FTX outfit.

    However, neither the Kiev government nor President Zelensky need fear the consequences of this particular debacle. Supporting Ukraine has been far too important an agenda for the Biden administration for triple-digit speculative losses on Western aid money to be a valid counterargument. US Secretary of State Blinken has assured Kiev that his administration would continue to support Ukraine “as long as necessary“.

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