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Ukraine’s Accusation Against Russia for Using Starlink Terminals is Dismissed as ‘Categorically False’ by Elon Musk

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For months, anonymous sources have alleged that Russian forces are using Starlink terminals in occupied territories for battlefield communications.

Ukraine’s primary military intelligence agency has accused Russia of using Starlink terminals produced by SpaceX in occupied territories of the country, a claim CEO Elon Musk has denied.

Starlink terminals connect to the company’s satellites in low Earth orbit and provide high-speed communications. Thousands of internet kits were donated by SpaceX to Ukraine in late February 2022, soon after Russian troops first invaded, to help the country gain a tactical edge on the battlefield. The tech has been hailed as an essential tool for Ukrainian communications.
In a Feb. 11 press release, Andriy Yusov, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s Main Directorate of Intelligence (GUR), insists the agency has radio intercepts of Russian soldier conversations allegedly indicating that Starlink terminals have been used by Russian occupying forces in occupied territories.

According to Mr. Yusov, units of the 83rd separate air assault brigade of the Russian armed forces were found using Starlink terminals to establish Internet access around the Donetsk region near Klishchiyivka and Andriyivka. Mr. Yusov also claims the Russian use of Starlink internet kits is on the rise, especially in front-line areas where the fighting is fiercest.

“Cases of using of the mentioned devices by Russian occupants have been recorded. This is starting to become systemic,” he said.

GUR did not provide any theories as to how Russian forces might have obtained the terminals in the contested areas like Donetsk, where Ukrainian and Russian forces are still engaged in combat. This follows months of anonymous sources alleging Ukrainian troops have recorded the use of Starlink satellite communication by Russian forces. At this stage, the statement by the GUR is the first official communication accusing Russia of using Starlink.

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An antenna of the Starlink satellite-based broadband system donated by the U.S. tech billionaire Elon Musk in Izyum, Kharkiv region on Sept. 25, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images)
An antenna of the Starlink satellite-based broadband system donated by the U.S. tech billionaire Elon Musk in Izyum, Kharkiv region on Sept. 25, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images)

SpaceX CEO and tech leader Elon Musk has denied his company’s involvement in helping Russia with its battlefield communications, calling any claims to the contrary “categorically false.”

In a Feb. 11 post on social media platform X, also owned by Mr. Musk, he said that, to his knowledge, Russia does not have access to Starlink devices.

“A number of false news reports claim that SpaceX is selling Starlink terminals to Russia,” he said. “To the best of our knowledge, no Starlinks have been sold directly or indirectly to Russia.”

A Feb. 8 statement from Starlink also denied the claims, saying the terminals were not active in Russia and SpaceX had never sold or marketed the service or shipped equipment to any locations in Russia.

“Starlink does not work in Russia, which means that the service will not work in this country. SpaceX has never sold or advertised Starlink in Russia, nor has it supplied equipment to Russia,” the company said.

“If SpaceX receives information that the Starlink terminal is being used by a sanctioned or unauthorized party, we will investigate the claim and take steps to deactivate the terminal if confirmed.”

Mr. Musk initially fully supported Ukraine when Russia invaded, with SpaceX sending thousands of Starlink terminals to the country. He has since scaled back over fears of being caught up in the escalating conflict. In 2022, Mr. Musk said he denied Kyiv’s request to activate Starlink near Moscow-annexed Crimea, where Ukraine was planning a drone strike because he thought it might make SpaceX “explicitly complicit in a major act of war.”

He said at the time that SpaceX would limit Ukraine’s use of the Starlink service for military purposes, noting that his company would not actively enable an escalation in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict.

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