When Ukraine experienced communication outages during the 2022 Russian invasion, Elon Musk’s Starlink, a satellite internet service provided by SpaceX, extended support to aid the nation’s communication infrastructure.
While Starlink has proved valuable in aiding Ukraine, countries across the globe have become increasingly concerned about Musk’s power over the technology, according to the New York Times.
The Growing Concern: One such country that reached out to the United States in the spring for an assessment of the billionaire entrepreneur — who owns Tesla, Inc, X (formerly Twitter), SpaceX and several other companies — was Ukraine.
On March 17, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley, and the leader of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, spoke over a secure line to talk about the ongoing invasion, to share intelligence and to discuss Musk, according to the Times, which spoke to three people with knowledge of the conversation.
With more than 4,500 Starlink satellites orbiting the planet, Musk owns 50% of all satellites now in use. The satellites provide Musk with a massive amount of data, and military and political leaders are concerned about how Musk could use that power to influence global politics.
Musk is aware of the power he holds and arguably will have to decide whether to use it for good or for evil. The problem is that global leaders are unsure where Musk stands in terms of politics and allegiances, especially taking into consideration the billionaire’s erratic personality.
“Between, Tesla, Starlink & Twitter, I may have more real-time global economic data in one head than anyone ever,” Musk tweeted in April, according to the Times report.
The Reason Governments Fear Musk: The concerns have been magnified because no other companies or governments have been able to match the scale of what Musk has built with Starlink.
According to individuals familiar with the situation, Musk has imposed restrictions on Starlink access multiple times during the conflict. At one instance, he reportedly declined the Ukrainian military’s request to activate Starlink near Crimea, a Russian-controlled territory, which had implications for battlefield strategy.
Last year, Musk publicly proposed a “peace plan” for the war that appeared to align with Russian interests, according to the Times.
For now, Musk appears to hold a great deal of power. Over the last 18 months, numerous countries, including some in Europe and the Middle East, have engaged in discussions with American officials regarding Starlink.
According to two U.S. intelligence officials familiar with the talks, some of these countries have raised concerns about Elon Musk’s influence over the technology, the Times report said. Few nations are willing to voice their apprehensions publicly, however, as intelligence and cybersecurity officials fear potential repercussions in their relations with Musk.
Produced in association with Benzinga
Edited by Jason Reed and Eunice Anyango Oyule and Judy J. Rotich and Kyana Jeanin Rubinfeld