Elon Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX has officially asked the Pentagon to pay for 100% of Ukraine’s access to Starlink, the satellite internet service the billionaire previously said he’d donated to the country, according to documents obtained by CNN. SpaceX also wants the U.S. government to pay for thousands of new Starlink terminals for Ukraine.
Roughly 85% of the 20,000 Starlink terminals that have been sent to Ukraine were already fully or partially funded by government sources, according to the documents obtained by CNN, while about 30% of the internet service for those terminals was paid for by organizations not affiliated with SpaceX.
Musk seemed to implicitly confirm CNN’s story early Friday explaining in a tweet that he was just following Ukraine’s own suggestion after a Ukrainian official had told him to “fuck off” over the idea that Russia should keep Crimea.
SpaceX, which survives as a company on billions of dollars in government contracts, requested the Pentagon to step in and pay roughly $120 million for Ukraine’s use of Starlink for the rest of the year. SpaceX also wants the U.S. government to foot the bill for about $400 million for next year, according to CNN.
“We are not in a position to further donate terminals to Ukraine, or fund the existing terminals for an indefinite period of time,” SpaceX’s director of government sales, Bryon Hargis, wrote in a letter to the Pentagon in September, according to CNN.
Musk, an American oligarch reportedly worth $215 billion, has previously tried to take all the credit for a generous donation of Starlink internet to Ukraine, and 70% of the service fees have indeed been “donated” to the war-torn nation, according to the documents seen by CNN. But Musk clearly thinks he’s offered enough for free and sent out a tweet early Friday saying it was “unreasonable” to ask SpaceX to continue paying for more terminals in Ukraine.
Ukraine’s General Valerii Zaluzhniy requested almost 8,000 new Starlink terminals in July, according to the documents seen by CNN. A consultant with SpaceX also wrote the Pentagon to explain the space company probably didn’t have the financial resources to provide what was requested, writing that SpaceX “faces terribly difficult decisions here.”
Starlink has been a vital lifeline for Ukraine, which has often struggled with reliable phone and internet access since Russia first invaded the country on February 24. Russia has bombed civilian infrastructure and often knocks out communications in the country. And while Musk has said publicly he supports Ukraine’s independence, he’s also expressed a desire for Ukraine’s people to accept Russia’s claims over some of Ukraine’s territory, something that Musk would be unlikely to support if, say, Mexico decided it wanted the states of California and Texas back.
Musk has also expressed concern about the risk of nuclear war if the U.S. continues to help Ukraine fight off Russia’s quest for more territory, given that Russian President Vladimir Putin has made threats to drop nukes in Ukraine. Putin has already declared the annexation of four regions in Ukraine, something most countries have refused to recognize, and it’s clear the authoritarian’s goal is to take the entire country.
Musk tweeted last week that SpaceX has spent $80 million on Starlink terminals and service for Ukraine, a number he says will reach $100 million by the end of the year.
Musk has not announced whether he’d offer a discount if the Pentagon picks up the tab for Ukraine’s terminals and service, or if he’s expecting to make a profit on each terminal sold. Terminals sent to Ukraine cost $1,500 and $2,500, according to the official documents seen by CNN. SpaceX, whose largest shareholder is Musk, is valued at roughly $127 billion, according to CNBC.
At no point in the CNN story or Musk’s recent tweets did the idea of Musk personally donating money to Ukraine come up. But it seems like an obvious solution if Musk wanted to continue taking credit for SpaceX’s contributions to the country. One anonymous defense official told CNN that Musk was just trying to look like a hero and have others pay the real price in Ukraine.
In fact, Musk made a snarky suggestion that by no longer funding internet access in Ukraine, he was just following what leaders in Ukraine want. Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, Andrij Melnyk, told Musk to “fuck off” in response to a tweet earlier this month where Musk suggested a peace deal could be reached between Ukraine if Russia gets to keep Crimea.
“We’re just following his recommendation,” Musk tweeted petulantly on Friday morning.
Interestingly, it’s not just the U.S. government that’s paid for terminals in Ukraine, with substantial money coming from both the British government and Poland. In fact, Poland was the single largest buyer of terminals for Ukraine, according to CNN, buying almost 9,000 of the 20,000 that have been sent to the country.
Musk, who’s currently battling Twitter in one of the weirdest lawsuits of the year, has most recently been promoting a new perfume that he says smells like burnt hair in a move that sounds like a practical joke on his own diehard fans. You can just imagine someone telling Musk, “your fans are so dumb, they’d buy burnt hair from you,” while a gigantic lightbulb formed over his head. How dumb are Musk’s followers? Apparently $1 million worth of burnt hair dumb, according to Reuters.