Zelenskyy adviser claims Elon Musk allowed Russians to hit Ukrainian cities

Comments by Mykhailo Podolyak follow revelations in a book that Musk severed crucial Starlink satellite signal during a Ukrainian drone operation.

SpaceX's Starlink service - headed by CEO Elon Musk, above - has been used by Ukrainian troops for various efforts including battlefield communications [File: Susan Walsh/AP]

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak has slammed Elon Musk for indirectly allowing Russian forces to attack Ukrainian cities after it was revealed his Starlink satellite communications interfered with a drone operation.

Details of the incident are laid out in a biography of Musk by Walter Isaacson, due out on Tuesday. The book describes how the network turned off communications near the coast of the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula as Ukrainian drones were approaching Russian warships, resulting in “lost connectivity”.

Musk allegedly ordered Starlink engineers to turn off the communications as he feared Russian President Vladimir Putin would respond with nuclear weapons to a Ukrainian attack on Crimea, according to Isaacson’s book.

“I think if the Ukrainian attacks had succeeded in sinking the Russian fleet, it would have been like a mini Pearl Harbor and led to a major escalation,” Musk is quoted as saying. “We did not want to be a part of that.”

Podolyak takes aim at Musk

Podolyak chose X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter that Musk owns, to launch a scathing attack on the tech billionaire.

In his post, he said by “not allowing” Ukrainian drones to attack Russian warships, Musk “allowed this fleet to fire Kalibr missiles at Ukrainian cities” – an action he said resulted in the death of civilians and children.

Responding to the excerpt in the book, Musk on Friday said he refused the request saying he feared complicity in a “major” act of war.

In the post on X, Musk said he had no choice but to reject an emergency request from Ukraine “to activate Starlink all the way to Sevastopol”.

“The obvious intent being to sink most of the Russian fleet at anchor,” Musk wrote. “If I had agreed to their request, then SpaceX would be explicitly complicit in a major act of war and conflict escalation.”

Podolyak has criticised Musk before. In February, he wrote, “A year of Ukrainian resistance & companies have to decide: Either they are on the side of Ukraine & the right to freedom, and don’t seek ways to do harm. Or they are on Russia’s side & its ‘right’ to kill & seize territories.”

SpaceX’s Starlink service, which boasts a fast-growing network of more than 4,000 satellites in low Earth orbit, has been used by Ukrainian troops for various efforts, including battlefield communications.

Ukrainians use their mobile phones near a Starlink satellite-based broadband station in Kherson [File: AFP]

SpaceX, through private donations and under a separate contract with a United States foreign aid agency, has provided Ukrainians and the country’s military with Starlink since the beginning of the war in 2022.

Musk has been accused in the past of posting Russian narratives, which include suggesting parts of occupied Ukraine be handed over to Russia.

The European Commission also published a report that shows X, formerly known as Twitter, has played a significant role in spreading Russian propaganda.

In Isaacson’s book, Musk complained about Starlink’s involvement in the conflict. “Starlink was not meant to be involved in wars. It was so people can watch Netflix and chill and get online for school and do good peaceful things, not drone strikes,” Musk reportedly said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies