The matter is complex and, as always when Elon Musk is involved, not easy to read.
Let’s start with the most recent and sensational data, and then rewind the tape, giving the whole story a chronological order. The decision is made in the last few hours: SpaceX has announced that it will limit the use of Starlink in Ukraine, because the service would have been used too casually for offensive purposes, or – to be more explicit – for war purposes.
And now it’s time to start from day zero, when Elon Musk decided to bring Starlink to the country besieged by Moscow’s army.
SpaceX e Starlink
First of all, it should be remembered that SpaceX, a company led by Elon Musk, deals with nothing less than creating the technological conditions for the colonization of Mars.
Beyond Musk’s penchant for megalomania, the company collaborates with NASA in sending resupply missions to the International Space Station.
In October 2018, SpaceX also launched the Starlink project, a constellation of satellites with the aim of creating low-latency broadband global satellite Internet access.
Simply put, Starlink ensures a high-speed broadband Internet connection even where network access is unstable or unavailable.
Starlink in Ukraine
From the days immediately following that February 24, 2022 which marked the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, it was understood that this would also be a war played on the technological side.
The Ukraine invaded by the Russian army immediately suffered major Internet connection problems. Which, if by now it has become part of all our lives, it is an essential tool for a besieged population.
And so, on February 26, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov made a vehement appeal to Elon Musk. On Twitter, Fedorov wrote: “Elon Musk, while you are trying to colonize Mars, Russia is trying to occupy Ukraine! As your rockets land successfully from space, Russian rockets attack the civilian population of Ukraine! We ask you to make Starlink stations available to Ukraine and reach out to sane Russians to take sides.”
A few hours later, here is Musk’s answer, for once clear and concrete: “The Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. Other terminals are on their way”.
In the next months
Since February of last year there has been no particular news regarding the state of operation of Starlink in Ukraine.
Except that, in October 2022, Elon Musk announced that maintaining the satellite service in the Ukrainian territory would have an unsustainable cost for SpaceX in the long run.
Musk said that from February to October, Starlink’s operating expenses in Ukraine had already amounted to $80 million. And that during 2023 it would reach 400 million dollars.
For this reason, the entrepreneur has explicitly asked the US government to bear such costs.
SpaceX restricts Starlink in Ukraine
And here we are in the present day. Indeed, in the past few hours.
When SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said the company will limit the use of Starlink in Ukraine. This is because “the service was not created to be used as a weapon”.
The reference goes to the fact that Starlink was granted to guarantee the population constant and rapid access to the Internet. While increasingly insistent reports say that the Ukrainian army is using the service to control its military drones. Shotwell spoke of “unfulfilled agreements and pacts”.
He added: “We know the military uses Starlink for communications, and that’s fine. But our intent has never been to have them used for offensive purposes.
The Ukrainian military would use the service to locate and strike enemy positions.
The real reasons
At this point, pardon the elementary reasoning, one can think well or think badly.
Come to think of it, SpaceX is genuinely concerned about Starlink being used in Ukraine for war, and intends to prevent it.
Thinking about it, the alibi of the offensive use of the service offers Elon Musk the right to limit a service which, by his own admission, has unsustainable costs for the company.
Regardless of where the truth lies, what will now become of the more than 1,300 satellite link terminals offered by SpaceX to Ukraine?
But most of all: how can we think of donating the Internet to a population at war, and nurture the naive hope that the network will only be exploited by private citizens in their daily lives, and not also by the army they are fighting?