Did Musk Thwart Ukraine Attack On Russia? The Starlink Controversy Explained


Elon Musk has confirmed key parts of a forthcoming biography that claimed he refused Ukraine’s request to use SpaceX’s Starlink satellite network for a drone attack on a Russian naval fleet in the Black Sea last year—an incident that’s enraged Ukraine officials and reportedly concerned their Western allies—but that Musk continues to defend, saying it kept his company from being “explicitly complicit in a major act of war.”

Key Facts

The excerpt from the biography of Musk written by journalist Walter Isaacson and set for release Tuesday, was first reported by CNN, and detailed how Musk secretly ordered engineers to turn off Starlink to disrupt an attack Ukraine was making on a Russian fleet using submarine drones strapped with explosives.

The biography claims Musk spoke with Anatoly Antonov, the Russian ambassador to the United States, who told him an attack “could lead to a nuclear response,” according to the New York Times.

Musk said in a post on X Thursday the request made by government officials was to activate Starlink systems in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol and was one he denied to avert a “major act of war and conflict escalation.”

Musk suggested in a separate post Russia and Ukraine should agree to a truce, saying battles over “small pieces of land” were not worth the lives of Russian and Ukrainian youth—a proposal both countries have largely resisted.

Chief Critic

Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, wrote in a post on X that “sometimes a mistake is much more than just a mistake,” adding Musk’s interference allowed the Russian fleet to fire cruise missiles at Ukrainian cities. Podolyak wrote civilians are being killed as a result of Musk’s action and said the outcome was “the price of a cocktail of ignorance and big ego.”


Russia’s former president and deputy chairman of the Security Council of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, also took to X this week, writing Musk is “the one with the balls” in “gender-neutral America” if what Isaacson wrote in the biography is true.

What We Don’t Know

It is unclear how the call between Musk and Antonov was set up or if Musk revealed the Ukrainian attack to the ambassador.

Forbes Valuation

We estimate Musk’s net worth at $251.3 billion, making him the world’s richest person.

Key Background

Advance copies of Isaacson’s biography on Musk were read by CNN and other news organizations, which reported quotes from Musk as asking “how am I in this war?” Musk reportedly likened the attack on the Russian naval fleet to a “mini-Pearl Harbor” and said such a military action would provoke retaliation from Moscow. The tech billionaire’s Starlink system has played a large role in Ukrainian government operations since its country was invaded by Russia in 2022, with more than 42,000 Starlink terminals being used by businesses, hospitals and the military, according to the Times. “Starlink was not meant to be involved in wars,” Musk reportedly says in the biography. “It was so people can watch Netflix and chill and get online for school and do good peaceful things, not drone strikes.” Last year, the Tesla CEO denied a report from political analyst Ian Bremmer saying he had engaged in communications with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the Ukraine war. Earlier that year, Musk challenged Putin to “single combat” over Ukraine, an “absolutely serious” proposal that resulted in Dmitry Rogozin, director general of Russia’s space program Roscosmos, calling Musk a weak “little devil.”


Isaacson, a former chairman of CNN, is the best-selling biographer of Steve Jobs, Henry Kissinger and Albert Einstein, among others.

Further Reading

Musk Calls For Russia-Ukraine Truce As He Denies Blocking Starlink Access During Major Offensive (Forbes)

Elon Musk Cut Off Ukraine’s Starlink Access During Drone Attack, According To His Biographer (Forbes)

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