SpaceX, Starlink, and Ukraine
Musk, in his conceit, wants to dictate foreign policy
Yesterday I accidentally got ahead of my schedule again by publishing a post entitled “Hijacking Democracy Symposium”, a promotion of a regional event in response to the appearance of Marge Greene in Coeur d’Alene last Saturday. She was the keynote speaker at the Kootenai County Republicans Lincoln Day Dinner. Lincoln would be appalled, embarrassed, and angry. If that post slipped by your notice, click the title to read it.
Today I depart from my usual local and regional focus to point out something of national and international import, Elon Musk’s intrusion into the Russia/Ukraine conflict
I am strongly in favor of U.S. support of Ukraine in its defense against Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion. Putin’s expansionist invasion of Ukraine is directly parallel to Hitler’s invasion of the Sudetenland, the event that, seen in retrospect, heralded the beginning of World War II. If the rest of the world’s countries today capitulate to Putin in the way that the Europeans capitulated to Hitler’s invasion of the Sudetenland, we are inviting Putin to proceed exactly as Hitler did. Putin has laid the rhetorical groundwork for continued Russian imperial conquest.
High tech in the form of satellite communications has been used extensively by the Ukrainian armed forces in their efforts to stave off Russian aggression. In particular, satellite communications are innovatively and effectively used by Ukraine to guide drone attacks on Russian tanks.
Last year it was briefly noted in the media that the satellites that Ukraine was using are those put in space and regulated by a private, California-based company, Starlink, a company owned and operated by SpaceX. The CEO and founder of privately owned SpaceX is none other that the private citizen, Twitter king, and (until recently) the richest man in the world, Elon Musk.
The private ownership of Starlink only came to public notice because last fall Mr. Musk threatened to cut off Ukrainian access to Starlink unless the United States subsidized Starlink in providing service to the Ukrainian military. Then he backed off on his threat. It certainly appeared that in October 2022 that Musk’s threat was motivated purely by monetary, not diplomatic consideration.
Then, on Thursday, February 9th, CNN reported “SpaceX admits blocking Ukrainian troops from using satellite technology” [the bold in the quote below is mine]:
Last October, Musk angered Ukrainians, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, for proposing a peace plan on Twitter that argued Ukraine just give up efforts to reclaim Crimea and cede control of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.
That same month, there were reports that the Starlink signal had been restricted and was not available past the front line as Ukrainian troops tried to advance, essentially hamstringing their efforts to retake territory from the Russians. Those reports of the outages fueled accusations that Musk was kowtowing to Russia.
SpaceX, Starlink, and all the rest of the Musk-owned companies may be based in the U.S., but they have multinational reach and, obviously, multinational effects. Selective withdrawal of satellite communicates to Ukraine by Starlink seems a clear example of a multinational company in the form of a single, highly opinionated autocratic CEO essentially dictating foreign policy to the coalition of countries led by the United States in supporting Ukraine. It seems clear that Musk has unilaterally decided that Putin’s Russia should be appeased by allowing it to keep the territories of Ukraine that it invaded in 2014—Crimea and the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk. Musk, a bloated private citizen, is playing the role of Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister instrumental in ceding the Sudetenland to Hitler’s expansionist Nazi Germany in 1938—appeasement that led directly to World War II.
Musk got ahead of himself in buying and taking over management of Twitter. Now he is doing the same by meddling in foreign policy. Republican sympathizers with Putin, of whom there are many, would likely scream bloody murder if the Biden administration went ahead—but there is precedent for nationalizing companies in time of war…
I take note that Henry Ford continued to do profitable business with the Third Reich right up to WWII. He was also a prominent member of the Nazi-sympathizing America First Committee, so ably and ominously documented in Rachel Maddow’s Ultra podcast series. I will close with a question: What is it about plutocratic car company entrepreneurs that leads them to sympathizing with megalomaniacs like Hitler and Putin?
Keep to the high ground,