Musk Acknowledges Conversation with Putin
American entrepreneur Elon Musk has admitted in a conversation with Pentagon officials that he personally spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin last year.
This revelation has been reported by The New Yorker.
In October, former US Deputy Secretary of Defense, Colin Kahl, reached out to Musk following reports that Ukrainian military personnel were losing access to the Starlink internet service when entering territories occupied by Russia. Kahl expressed the importance of engaging with Musk, despite him not holding an official diplomatic or governmental role, due to the significant influence he wields.
Musk's company, SpaceX, which is focused on space exploration, had been providing internet access across Ukraine for months through the Starlink network. This facilitated strategic planning and defense capabilities for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. However, Ukrainian military personnel discovered that their communication was disrupted upon entering areas occupied by Russia.
The situation grew more concerning when SpaceX presented the Pentagon with an ultimatum. If the Pentagon didn't cover the cost of services in Ukraine – estimated at around $400 million annually by the company – Musk threatened to terminate the access. A Pentagon official recalled, "We started to panic a little. Musk could turn off Starlink at any moment. This would have had a real operational impact on Ukrainians."
Kahl believes that Musk began to grow anxious as Starlink's involvement increasingly seemed to be aiding Ukrainian military efforts. He stated, "He was looking for a way to appease Russia."
During his conversation with Kahl, Musk admitted to personally speaking with Putin. Musk revealed that he had observed the unfolding conflict on his laptop screen via the Starlink activity map. This prompted Musk to contemplate how the technology he had developed for peaceful purposes was being utilized for warfare.
At a conference in Aspen a month later, Musk even expressed support for Vladimir Putin. He took the stage and said, "We need to negotiate. Putin wants peace – we need to negotiate peace with him," according to Reid Hoffman, PayPal co-founder. Hoffman recalled that it seemed as if Musk "swallowed what Putin fed him, hook, line, and sinker."
A week later, Musk tweeted a proposal for his own peace plan, suggesting new referendums to alter Ukraine's borders and granting Russia control over Crimea as a semi-autonomous peninsula, recognized as Ukrainian territory by the majority of countries, including the United States.
Elon Musk became entangled in the conflict in Ukraine shortly after Russia's invasion in February 2022. Alongside conventional attacks, the Kremlin conducted cyberattacks on Ukraine's digital infrastructure. Ukrainian officials and a coalition of expatriates in the technology sector found a potential solution in SpaceX's Starlink – a suite of mobile internet terminals. These devices, connected to a network of satellites, were mounted on white plastic stands, roughly the size of computer screens. Their limited range proved advantageous in this situation, as a nationwide network was needed and Russia would find it difficult to entirely dismantle Ukraine's communication system.
Musk could indeed have done so. Individuals involved in bringing Starlink to Ukraine noted that they initially didn't fully comprehend the significance of Musk's personal oversight. As Kahl mentioned, a contract with SpaceX was required to ensure Musk "couldn't wake up one morning and decide he didn't want to do it anymore."
As reported by The Gaze, the US Department of Defense eventually signed an agreement with SpaceX to purchase Starlink terminals and services for Ukraine, a deal that Elon Musk couldn't easily terminate.