Elon Musk says that his company SpaceX cannot fund Starlink internet access in Ukraine in perpetuity because it’s too expensive. In a tweet on Friday Musk claimed the “burn is approaching $20 million a month.”
But on Saturday, in another tweet, Musk said he will keep “funding [the] Ukrainian [government] for free,” anyway.
In the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February, SpaceX transferred Starlink terminals, the satellite-powered distributed internet service operated by SpaceX, in part to help keep Ukraine’s military defend itself against the invasion by its nuclear-armed and territorially ambitious neighbor.
Also on Friday the Pentagon confirmed it’s talking with Musk but pointedly added that the U.S. is also looking into other options, Bloomberg reported.
“We are engaged in talking with SpaceX,” the space exploration company owned by Musk, Defense Department spokeswoman Sabrina Singh told reporters on Friday. At the same time, she said, the U.S., Ukraine and allies are also “assessing our options” with other communications companies.
Musk claimed SpaceX cannot fund the Ukraine system “indefinitely,” claiming the total monthly bottom-line cost of the operation is some $20 million, with funding sources unclear and some reporting on the matter seemingly in conflict. Musk further has stated of late that Starlink is intended for civilian, not military, use — even as, according to reporting by Gillian Tett of the Financial Times, the NATO military alliance is an increasingly lucrative target market for the SpaceX offering.
Tett reported that there are currently some 25,000 Starlink units in Ukraine.
Musk, putatively the world’s richest person, addressed the Starlink service in Ukraine in a series of tweets shared early Friday,
The SpaceX and Tesla
CEO and perhaps soon-to-be Twitter
owner has weighed in on the Russia-Ukraine conflict on several occasions since the military action ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin commenced on Feb. 24, earning accolades from Ukraine and its Western allies for months.
Then, on Oct. 3, Musk — having had, by one noted foreign-policy researcher’s account, a one-on-one with Putin — posted a controversial poll on Twitter, while appearing to suggest that Ukraine declare neutrality and relinquish any claim to the Crimean Peninsula, annexed unlawfully by Russia in 2014, as preconditions for peace. The outgoing Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, not surprisingly, didn’t back that idea, viewed by many as accommodating Putin’s goals.
Musk referenced the Ukrainian diplomat’s terse comment in a Friday tweet.
CNN reported that Musk has recently informed the Pentagon that SpaceX cannot fund Starlink services in Ukraine for much longer and recently, according to CNN, asked the Pentagon to pay for the Ukrainian government’s use of Starlink, which SpaceX contends could cost about $400 million over the next year. The U.S. government has already spent millions to provide Starlink terminals to Ukraine, according to the Washington Post, in apparent contradiction of Musk and company’s claims.
Reported Starlink service disruptions in particularly sensitive regions of Ukraine further raised eyebrows in light of increasing perceived alignment between Musk’s statements and Kremlin talking points.
These Ukraine developments, as well as new Starlink deployments in Florida in the wake of Hurricane Ian, have, of course, transpired against the backdrop of Musk’s ongoing Twitter M&A saga.
Musk informed Twitter on Oct. 3 that he intended to move forward with his acquisition of the company at $54.20 a share — after a high-profile walk-away in July — and the two sides have until Oct. 28 to close the deal or the paused trial over the deal is back on.
Representatives of SpaceX and Musk didn’t immediately respond to MarketWatch’s requests for comment for this story.