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Blinken Highlights Starlink’s Benefits in Ukraine When Quizzed About Musk

Secretary of State Antony Blinken sidestepped pointed questions on Sunday over Elon Musk’s decision not to provide Ukraine his Starlink access for a submarine drone attack against Russian naval vessels last year.

During an appearance on CNN, Mr. Blinken was asked by host Jake Tapper whether there would be “repercussions” for the SpaceX founder after he “effectively sabotaged a military operation by Ukraine, a U.S. ally, against Russia, an aggressor country that invaded a U.S. ally.”

“Jake, I can’t speak to a specific episode,” Mr. Blinken said. “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.”

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Ukraine’s access to the Starlink satellite communication network came under scrutiny last week, when media outlets claimed that Mr. Musk ordered Starlink to be deactivated near the coast of Crimea last year to prevent the drone attack, citing an excerpt from a new biography on the billionaire tech mogul.

Soon afterward, Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to criticize Mr. Musk over the book excerpt.

“By not allowing Ukrainian drones to destroy part of the Russian military fleet via Starlink interference, Elon Musk allowed this fleet to fire Kalibr missiles at Ukrainian cities,” Mr. Podolyak wrote on Thursday.

Ukrainian Presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 16, 2023. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP Photo)
Ukrainian Presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 16, 2023. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP Photo)

Walter Isaacson, author of the new book, clarified the issue in an X post on Friday.

“To clarify on the Starlink issue: the Ukrainians THOUGHT coverage was enabled all the way to Crimea, but it was not. They asked Musk to enable it for their drone sub attack on the Russian fleet. Musk did not enable it, because he thought, probably correctly, that would cause a major war,” Mr. Isaacson wrote.

Less than an hour later, Mr. Musk took to X to thank Mr. Isaacson for his clarification.

“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,” Mr. Musk wrote. “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,” Mr. Musk added. “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.”

Within days after Russia’s invasion in early 2022, Mr. Musk activated Starlink in Ukraine after its

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