CNN’s Jake Tapper pressed Secretary of State Antony Blinken whether “Elon Musk should face “repercussions” for refusing to allow Ukraine to use the satellite internet system Starlink to attack the Russian fleet in Crimea.
Tapper accused Musk of sabotage.
Blinken, speaking from the G20 Summit in New Delhi, India, appeared to dance around Tapper’s question, prompting Tapper to ask if he was afraid of offending the Telsa CEO.
The controversy began after excerpts were released from a new biography of Musk by Walter Isaacson.
Elon Musk has aided Ukraine with Starlink for defense and civilian communications.
Excerpt from CNN transcript:
TAPPER: So, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has recently confirmed a report that’s in Walter Isaacson’s new biography of Musk that, last year, Musk blocked access to his Starlink satellite network in Crimea in order to disrupt a major Ukrainian attack on the Russian navy there. In other words, Musk effectively sabotaged a military operation by Ukraine, a US ally, against Russia, an aggressor country that invaded a US ally. Should there be repercussions for that?
BLINKEN: Jake, I can’t speak to a specific episode. Here’s what I can tell you. Starlink has been a vital tool for the Ukrainians to be able to communicate with each other, and particularly for the military to communicate in their effort to defend all of Ukraine’s territory. It remains so, and I would expect it to continue to be critical to their efforts. So, what we would hope and expect is that that technology will remain fully available to the Ukrainians. It is vital to what they’re doing.
TAPPER: I don’t know that you can’t speak to it. You won’t speak to it. Musk says he was reportedly afraid that Russia would retaliate with nuclear weapons. Musk says that’s based on his private discussions he had with senior Russian officials. Are you concerned that Musk is apparently conducting his own diplomatic outreach to the Russian government? Really, none of this concerns you?
BLINKEN: Jake, I can’t speak to conversations that may or may not have happened. I don’t know. I’m focused on the fact that the technology itself, Starlink, has been really important to the Ukrainians. It remains so. And it should continue to be part of what they’re able to call on to be able to communicate with themselves and, again, to have the military be able to communicate. Throughout this Russian aggression, we have — we ourselves have always had to factor in what Russia may do in response to any given thing that we or others do or the Ukrainians do. And we have. But what’s so critical now is that Ukrainians had real success over the past year. I was just in Ukraine, as you know. The last time I was there was almost exactly a year ago. In that year, from the last time I was there until this week, the Ukrainians have retaken more than 50 percent of the territory seized by Russia since February of 2022. They’re now engaged in a critical counteroffensive. And we’re doing everything we can to maximize our support for them, along with many other countries, so that they can be successful. Starlink is an important part of their success. And, as I said, we expect that it will continue to be so.
TAPPER: It sounds like Starlink is so important that the US government doesn’t want to risk offending a capricious billionaire who did some things that I think, in another situation, the US government might want to say something about.
Musk commented on the Starlink controversy on Thursday and Friday on X:
“There was an emergency request from government authorities to activate Starlink all the way to Sevastopol. The obvious intent being to sink most of the Russian fleet at anchor. If I had agreed to their request, then SpaceX would be explicitly complicit in a major act of war and conflict escalation.”
“The Starlink regions in question were not activated. SpaceX did not deactivate anything. Both sides should agree to a truce…Every day that passes, more Ukrainian and Russian youth die to gain and lose small pieces of land, with borders barely changing. This is not worth their lives.”
“Much appreciated, Walter. The onus is meaningfully different if I refused to act upon a request from Ukraine vs. made a deliberate change to Starlink to thwart Ukraine. At no point did I or anyone at SpaceX promise coverage over Crimea. Moreover, our terms of service clearly prohibit Starlink for offensive military action, as we are a civilian system, so they were again asking for something that was expressly prohibited. SpaceX is building Starshield for the US government, which is similar to, but much smaller than Starlink, as it will not have to handle millions of users. That system will be owned and controlled by the US government.”
Musk added, “I want to help humans, not kill them.”
Last year, Musk wrote, The hell with it … even though Starlink is still losing money & other companies are getting billions of taxpayer $, we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free.”