Will Elon Musk decide the outcome of the war in Ukraine? It is too early for a definitive answer. But what is certain is that, to date, the eccentric American entrepreneur has significantly influenced events on Ukrainian battlefields.
Let’s take a look back. Not only did the first Russian military helicopters enter Ukrainian airspace in the early morning of Feb. 24, the start of Vladimir Putin’s war was also felt in Luxembourg. Wind turbines suddenly went offline in the Grand Duchy, as in other European Union countries. After a cyberattack, they could no longer communicate with their satellites. The attack was not directed against the wind turbines in Oesling or against those in Germany or elsewhere in Europe. The Russian cyberattack on the satellite network KA-SAT, which is owned by Viasat, caused significant disruption to “public authorities, businesses and users in Ukraine,” the EU reported in May after investigating the event. Oesling was, in other words, collateral damage.
At the start of the war, however, Ukraine faced a huge problem. Without reliable, secure communication channels, you cannot win a war, direct troop movements or use drones, so important in this war. If soldiers are forced to use conventional communication methods, they run the risk of being spotted and ending up as cannon fodder. Artillery use is at stake. In short, it was a communications meltdown for Ukraine, and in the early hours of the Russian invasion at that.
Salvation came from the stars. Or, rather, from the satellites that many in recent years have initially thought were stars as they move across the night sky like a strand of gleaming pearls. American entrepreneur Musk, known for creating Tesla electric cars, sent thousands of internet terminals to Ukraine in February through his space company, SpaceX, for the use of his Starlink satellite network.
Since then, Starlink has provided its services to Ukraine, without which hardly a single Ukrainian success would have been possible. Russia, predictably, was angry, threatened to kill Musk, and tried without success to shut down the satellites. China became suspicious, and the U.S. defense bubble was teary-eyed with joy, as well as a little jealous that its own military did not have the same capabilities.
Musk’s satellites saved Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s soldiers, and the Americans probably were close to being declared state heroes in Ukraine — until Oct. 3, when Musk took to Twitter to ask the world whether the Ukraine war couldn’t be solved if: a) the elections in the areas annexed by Russia were redone under U.N. supervision, b) Russia was guaranteed Crimea and maritime access, and c) Ukraine remained neutral. Given that such a proposal could also have come from an official Kremlin account, it is no surprise that a storm of protests erupted in Ukraine. Ukrainian diplomats tweeted at Musk to “fuck off.” Musk fell out of grace instantly among those standing with Ukraine.
At almost the same time, news arrived from soldiers on the Ukrainian front line who reported catastrophic communication outages via Starlink. When the Financial Times reported on it, Musk tweeted, “As for what’s happening on the battlefield, that’s classified.” Now the most recent sign of an apparent estrangement between Musk and Kyiv is being made public. According to reports from the U.S., Musk’s SpaceX company has warned the Pentagon that it no longer wants to shoulder the costs for Starlink services to Ukraine. In other words, if the U.S. government does not take over the costs, the communication network on the Ukrainian front lines will collapse. It would be impossible to recapture additional territory that has been occupied by Russia.
Russia’s war in Ukraine is on a path of uncontrolled escalation and, in a worst-case scenario, threatens to end in a third world war, nuclear disaster included. So, is Musk deciding the outcome of this war? The fact that this question cannot be thunderously swept off the table is scary enough. But it is, unfortunately, reality.