Tech billionaire Elon Musk has been likened to a James Bond villain, and he apparently can pull the strings on the world stage in a way that would make Dr. No, Auric Goldfinger, and even Ernst Stavro Blofeld green with envy. Musk’s SpaceX cut off its Starlink Internet service to Ukrainian submarine drones last year as Kyiv launched an attack on the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
Ukraine has successfully launched a number of high-profile raids on the port of Sevastopol, the home port of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea. The daring strikes haven’t caused significant damage to the ships, but it has remained a source of embarrassment for the Kremlin as Ukraine has no navy.
It was in the spring of 2022 that the guided-missile frigate Moskva, the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, was sunk by Ukrainian land-based missiles. As a result of that attack, Russian warships have largely remained in port. Kyiv has used that as an opportunity to strike the vessels – but it appears that one raid early in the war was thwarted not by increased Russian diligence, but rather by Musk.
The tech entrepreneur – who famously purchased Twitter last year in a deal worth $44 billion – had secretly ordered his engineers to turn off the Starlink satellite communications network near the Crimean coast to disrupt a sneak attack on the fleet in harbor. According to a CNN report that cited an excerpt from the forthcoming biography of Musk by Walter Isaacson, Ukrainian submarine drones strapped with explosives approached the Russian fleet – but then “lost connectivity and washed ashore harmlessly.”
Musk reportedly feared that the planned attack on the Black Sea Fleet would escalate tensions and potentially lead to nuclear conflict.
Starlink Not For War
In the early days of the conflict, after Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Musk’s Starlink helped Ukraine remain connected to the outside world. Yet, the South African-born billionaire has maintained that he didn’t want it to be employed to aid Kyiv’s war effort – especially not a mini-Pearl Harbor.
“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 said, according to the book.
Musk’s stance was met with a harsh rebuke from a top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“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,” Mykhailo Podolyak wrote Thursday on social media. “As a result, civilians, children are being killed. This is the price of a cocktail of ignorance and big ego. However, the question still remains: why do some people so desperately want to defend war criminals and their desire to commit murder? And do they now realize that they are committing evil and encouraging evil?”
This is not the first time that Kyiv has been critical of Musk’s decisions. Last fall, Musk’s SpaceX – which sent millions of dollars worth of satellite equipment to Ukraine – announced that it would no longer continue to foot the bill.
However, following a media backlash, Musk reversed course, and announced on social media “We’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free.” It should be noted that the announcement was made as he was also spending the $44 billion to buy Twitter – now known as X. Musk’s decision reportedly didn’t sit well with Gwynne Shotwell, Musk’s president at SpaceX.
“The Pentagon had a $145 million check ready to hand to me, literally,” Isaacson quoted Shotwell as saying. “Then Elon succumbed to the [expletive] on Twitter and to the haters at the Pentagon who leaked the story.”
SpaceX subsequently worked out a deal with the U.S. and European governments, which paid for another 100,000 new satellite dishes earlier this year, according to Isaacson.
Free Speech Absolutist – Nobody Does it Worse!
Musk has described himself as a free speech absolutist, which drove his decision to purchase Twitter. Yet, a study commissioned by the European Union this week found that Russian propaganda is now reaching more people on X than before the war in Ukraine.
In addition, as this reporter noted in a story for Forbes.com, antisemitism has been on the rise on the social media platform. Yet, Musk responded to criticism about rising hate speech on X by suing the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
Finally, those who have suggested his actions are akin to a James Bond villain can take comfort that last year he paid nearly $1 million to own the Lotus Esprit submarine car from the Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me.”
That does seem like something a supervillain would do – in addition to literally pulling the strings in an ongoing war.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.