SpaceX has moved to restrict the Ukrainian military’s use of its satellite internet service, notably used to control drones, as Kyiv fights against Russia’s full-scale invasion, the company’s president said Wednesday.
The U.S. space company, founded by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, has been providing internet to Ukraine since last February through its Starlink satellite system.
That service, which has been used by the Ukrainian military to control drones, was “never meant to be weaponized,” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said at an event in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, according to Reuters.
“Ukrainians have leveraged it in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement,” she added.
SpaceX has taken steps to limit the Ukrainian army’s ability to use its internet for drone control, Shotwell said, without detailing what the concrete measures were.
Just days after the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which came with an array of cyberattacks against the country’s infrastructure, SpaceX moved to connect Ukraine to its satellite internet network, allowing online access without the need for fiber cables.
But Musk raised concerns in Kyiv and among Western allies last October after he tweeted a series of Kremlin talking points, presenting them as a peace plan. Later in October, Musk also said he was no longer willing to pay for the Starlink internet terminals in Ukraine, asking the U.S. Department of Defense to take over responsibility instead.
Musk has come in for direct criticism from Ukrainian troops over the SpaceX chief’s remark on Wednesday.
“After Elon Musk ruled out the possibility of using Starlinks as an element of Ukraine’s defense (communication with drones), he can no longer talk about values and democracy. By cutting off a certain opportunity for Ukrainians to defend themselves — Musk directly kills Ukrainians,” Ukrainian serviceman Vitaly Ovcharenko said in a Twitter statement.
Ukraine’s Digital Transformation Minister Mykhailo Fedorov told POLITICO: “So far, there are no problems with the operation of Starlink terminals in Ukraine. Basically today we’ve received the first few thousand Starlinks from a new batch of 10,000 devices from the German government.”
Fedorov added that Starlink helps “save thousands of lives daily. The energy infrastructure continues to work due to Starlink. Doctors perform complex surgeries thanks to the connection that Starlink provides … Elon Musk is one of the biggest private donors of our future victory.”
Veronika Melkozerova contributed reporting.
This story has been updated.