Ukrainian official: Musk to keep funding key satellite links

People pose with a Ukrainian flag by the logo of the Web Summit technology conference outside the venue hosting it in Lisbon, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Elon Musk has given assurances to Ukraine that he will keep funding its access to a crucial satellite network providing Kyiv with battlefield and humanitarian communications in its war with Russia, a senior Ukrainian official said Wednesday.

Elon Musk “told me personally that he will continue to support Ukraine and continue to provide Starlink to Ukraine,” Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation, told The Associated Press.

“There are no problems for now with Starlink,” Fedorov said through an interpreter.

Doubts arose last month about whether Musk would continue to offer the SpaceX Starlink system to Ukraine. Its more than 2,200 low-orbiting satellites provide a broadband internet service to more than 150,000 Ukrainian ground stations.

But Musk tweeted in mid-October that it was costing SpaceX $20 million a month to support Ukraine’s communications needs. He also noted his company has to create, launch, maintain and replenish satellites and ground stations. Musk, the world's richest man, also spent billions to take control of Twitter last week.

U.S. officials confirmed at the time that Musk had asked the Defense Department to take over funding for the service Starlink provides in Ukraine.

The Starlink satellite internet’s role is central to Ukraine’s defense. For example, it helps front-line reconnaissance drone operators target artillery strikes on Russian assets and positions. The fighting in Ukraine is Europe’s first major war of the internet age.

Fedorov, speaking to the AP on the sidelines of an international tech conference in Lisbon, Portugal, wouldn’t lift the lid on how Starlink assists Ukraine’s military.

He noted that its importance stretches beyond military use, allowing soldiers to call home, permitting humanitarian operations and enabling the Ukraine government to continue rolling out e-services for its citizens, even in wartime.

“Starlink is now crucial for all the critical state services,” he said.

Satellite imagery provided by western companies also helps the Ukrainian military’s “situational awareness,” he said.

Recent Russian missile attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure, especially the power supply, have disrupted internet services but “it’s not that critical as of yet,” according to Fedorov.

He said tens of thousands of Ukrainian volunteers are helping to fend off Russian cyberattacks.


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