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US billionaire Elon Musk tweeted on Saturday that SpaceX will continue funding Starlink internet service in war-torn Ukraine, apparently reversing course after SpaceX asked the United States military to pick up the tab.
SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet services have been a vital source of communication for the country’s military during the war with Russia, but as CNN exclusively reported earlier this week, SpaceX warned the Pentagon that it may stop funding the service in Ukraine unless the US military kicks in tens of millions of dollars per month, according to documents obtained by CNN.
The letter also requested that the Pentagon take over funding for Ukraine’s government and military use of Starlink, which SpaceX claims would cost more than $120 million for the rest of the year and could cost close to $400 million for the next 12 months. The report elicited a torrent of tweets from social media users both defending and criticizing the move.
A tweet from Musk’s verified account posted Saturday said, “The hell with it … even though Starlink is still losing money & other companies are getting billions of taxpayer $, we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free.”
Since they first started arriving in Ukraine last spring, the Starlink satellite internet terminals made by Musk’s SpaceX have allowed Ukraine’s military to fight and stay connected even as cellular phone and internet networks have been destroyed in its war with Russia.
A Pentagon spokesperson said Friday that it had been in communication with SpaceX but did not say whether it was over the funding of the Starlink satellite communication product.
In response Saturday to a follower who replied to Musk’s tweet, “No good deed goes unpunished,” Musk said, “Even so, we should still do good deeds.”
Musk on Friday had doubled down on SpaceX’s request to the Pentagon in a series of tweets.
“SpaceX is not asking to recoup past expenses, but also cannot fund the existing system indefinitely *and* send several thousand more terminals that have data usage up to 100X greater than typical households. This is unreasonable,” read one post from Musk’s verified account.
He also said that in asking the Pentagon to pick up the bill for Starlink in Ukraine, he was following the advice of a Ukrainian diplomat who responded to Musk’s Ukraine peace plan earlier this month, before the letter was sent to the Pentagon, with: “F*** off.”
Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, Andrij Melnyk, responded earlier this month to Musk’s claimed peace plan for Russia’s Ukraine war by saying: “F*** off is my very diplomatic reply to you @elonmusk.”
SpaceX’s suggestion that it would stop funding Starlink also came amid rising concern in Ukraine over Musk’s allegiance. Musk recently tweeted a controversial peace plan that would have Ukraine give up Crimea and control over the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions.
After Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky raised the question of who Musk sides with, he responded that he “still very much support[s] Ukraine” but fears “massive escalation.”
One Ukrainian official, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelensky, appeared to extend an olive branch in a tweet posted Friday, writing, “Let’s be honest. Like it or not, @elonmusk helped us survive the most critical moments of war.”
“Business has the right to its own strategies,” Podolyak’s tweet read. “(We) will find a solution to keep #Starlink working. We expect that the company will provide stable connection till the end of negotiations.”