Since last spring, the Ukrainian army has been able to rely on the constellation of Starlink satellites to communicate, in the absence of unstable fixed and mobile networks due to Russian bombardments on these critical infrastructures. But the assistance provided, hitherto free of charge, by the American company SpaceX, owned by Elon Musk, could well come to an end.
“We are unable to donate new terminals to Ukraine, or fund existing terminals indefinitely“, wrote the director of government sales of SpaceX at the Pentagon in a letter dated September and revealed by CNN.
SpaceX distances itself
To date, more than 20,000 Starlink terminal satellites have been deployed in Ukraine, an operation that “cost SpaceX $80 million and will top $100 million by the end of the year”, according to Elon Musk himself on Twitter. The two models of terminals sent to Ukraine would cost between 1500 and 2500 dollars.
To this must be added the costs of using this satellite network which would amount to more than 120 million dollars for the rest of the year and could cost nearly 400 million dollars for the next 12 months, after internal documents obtained by the American chain. SpaceX is now threatening to stop the charges, and urging the Pentagon to pick up the slack.
“The nerve to present themselves as heroes”
Except that, according to SpaceX figures shared with the Pentagon and reported by CNN, about 85% of the 20,000 terminals in Ukraine have been paid for, in whole or in part, by countries like the United States, the United Kingdom or the Poland.
The request to get your hands on the wallet therefore does not pass. They have “the nerve to present themselves as heroes“, annoyed a senior American official with the chain, faced with the bill claimed for tens of millions per month, even though Poland, for example, would have financed 9,000 of the terminals sent by itself.
These state contributors would also have paid approximately 30% of the subscription fee for the service, which SpaceX says comes to $4,500 per month per unit (for the most advanced service). SpaceX declined to comment on these revelations to CNN.
A spokesperson for the US Department of Defense, meanwhile, said the government “continues to work with industry to explore solutions for Ukraine’s armed forces as they repel Russia’s brutal and unprovoked aggression”.
No connection with The crumpled ego of Elon Musk
These revelations come 10 days after Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany Andrij Melnyk invited Elon Musk, on Twitterat “go fuck yourself”. The American billionaire had published on his profile his “tracks” for a peace plan between Moscow and Kyiv, proposing that Crimea officially become part of Russia “as it has been since 1783 (until Khrushchev’s mistake)”. A suggestion, very pro-Kremlin, which had made Ukraine react.
We’re just following his recommendation ???????
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 14, 2022
In response to a tweet echoing CNN’s revelations, Elon Musk replied that he “was just following [la] recommendation” of the Ukrainian ambassador. Nevertheless, SpaceX’s request concerning payment for the terminals dates from before this exchange, so it would not be in question. We note, however, that Elon Musk previously refused to provide new terminals to Ukraine as part of his operations to retake Crimea (annexed by Russia in 2014), fearing Moscow’s anger and the possible “triggering of the Third World War”.