Secretary of State Antony Blinken twice declined to criticize Elon Musk after the SpaceX founder said he refused to help the Ukrainian government access his Starlink internet service in order to attack Russia.
Blinken was pressed by CNN’s Jake Tapper to comment on details in a new book confirmed by Musk, including that he refused the Ukrainian government’s requests to activate Starlink, a satellite internet service run by SpaceX, in Crimea so it could launch a submarine drone attack against Russian naval forces.
“There was an emergency request from government authorities to activate Starlink all the way to Sevastopol,” Musk posted Thursday on X. “The obvious intent being to sink most of the Russian fleet at anchor. If I had agreed to their request, then SpaceX would be explicitly complicit in a major act of war and conflict escalation.”
Tapper asked Blinken whether Musk should face repercussions after he “effectively sabotaged a military operation by Ukraine, a U.S. ally, against Russia, an aggressor country that invaded a U.S. ally.”
“Jake, I can’t speak to a specific episode. Here’s what I can tell you: Starlink has been a vital tool for the Ukrainians to be able to communicate with each other and particularly for the military to communicate in their effort to defend all of Ukraine’s territory.”
“I don’t know that you can’t speak to it, you won’t speak to it,” Tapper fired back. “Musk says he was reportedly afraid that Russia would retaliate with nuclear weapons. Musk says that’s based on his private discussions he had with senior Russian officials. Are you concerned that Musk is apparently conducting his own diplomatic outreach to the Russian government? Really, none of this concerns you?”
“Jake, I can’t speak to conversations that may or may not have happened. I don’t know,” Blinked responded. “I’m focused on the fact that the technology itself, Starlink, has been really important for Ukrainians. It remains so.”
Tapper argued, “It sounds like Starlink’s so important, the U.S. government doesn’t want to risk offending a capricious billionaire who did some things that I think in another situation, the U.S. government might want to say something about, but let’s move on.”
Musk’s tweet last week came amid backlash over an excerpt from Walter Isaacson’s new biography, “Elon Mus,k” that was published in The Washington Post. Isaacson claimed in the excerpt that Musk had Starlink’s connection in Crimea shut off.
But Musk said there was never Starlink coverage in Crimea.
Isaacson posted a clarification on Friday, writing, “To clarify on the Starlink issue: the Ukrainians THOUGHT coverage was enabled all the way to Crimea, but it was not. They asked Musk to enable it for their drone sub attack on the Russian fleet. Musk did not enable it, because he thought, probably correctly, that would cause a major war.”
Musk thanked Isaacson for the post and added, “The onus is meaningfully different if I refused to act upon a request from Ukraine vs. made a deliberate change to Starlink to thwart Ukraine.”
“At no point did I or anyone at SpaceX promise coverage over Crimea,” Musk wrote. “Moreover, our terms of service clearly prohibit Starlink for offensive military action, as we are a civilian system, so they were again asking for something that was expressly prohibited. SpaceX is building Starshield for the U.S. government, which is similar to, but much smaller than, Starlink, as it will not have to handle millions of users. That system will be owned and controlled by the U.S. government.”
Mykhailo Podolyak, a top aide to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, slammed Musk over the book excerpt and accused him of costing lives.
“By not allowing Ukrainian drones to destroy part of the Russian military fleet via Starlink interference, Elon Musk allowed this fleet to fire Kalibr missiles at Ukrainian cities,” Podolyak wrote. “As a result, civilians, children are being killed. This is the price of a cocktail of ignorance and big ego.”
Musk has previously defended limiting Ukraine’s use of Starlink for military purposes, declaring in February that SpaceX “will not enable escalation of conflict that may lead to WW3.”
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell announced at the time that the company was restricting Ukraine from using Starlink, but that it could still be used in the country for typical communications and humanitarian relief, like linking families and hospitals.
Fox News’ Greg Wehner contributed to this report.