These are extraordinary times when a billionaire capitalist is able to singlehandedly intervene in an international conflict on his own whims. But that appears to be at least partly what happened in an incident last year that's described in a new book about Elon Musk.
Bestselling celebrity and tech biographer Walter Isaacson has a new biography coming out, similar to his 2011 tome titled Steve Jobs, which is just titled Elon Musk. The New York Times obtained an advance copy this week, and they report that Isaacson spoke to Musk about the 2022 incident in which Ukraine allegedly asked Musk and SpaceX to extend satellite-based Starlink internet coverage to Crimea, in order to enable a drone strike there.
According to a response to the book from Musk, Isaacson got something wrong — he claimed Musk disabled internet "within 100 kilometers of the Crimean coast," but Musk said that coverage never existed, and he just refused to extend coverage there.
The book reports that Musk consulted with Russian ambassador to the United States, Anatoly I. Antonov, as well as National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But, as the Times notes, Isaacson does not answer the question of whether these officials offered Musk any direct advice — only that Antonov told him that a Ukrainian drone strike on Russia's naval fleet could lead to "a nuclear conflict."
Musk acknowledged all this in a Thursday tweet. "There was an emergency request from government authorities to activate Starlink all the way to Sevastopol," he wrote. "The obvious intent being to sink most of the Russian fleet at anchor. If I had agreed to their request, then SpaceX would be explicitly complicit in a major act of war and conflict escalation."
There was an emergency request from government authorities to activate Starlink all the way to Sevastopol.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 7, 2023
The obvious intent being to sink most of the Russian fleet at anchor.
If I had agreed to their request, then SpaceX would be explicitly complicit in a major act of war and…
"I think if the Ukrainian attacks had succeeded in sinking the Russian fleet, it would have been like a mini Pearl Harbor and led to a major escalation," Musk reportedly said, according to Isaacson's book. "We did not want to be a part of that."
The incident is going to add fuel to discussions about the outsize power that Musk has wielded in this conflict, with the Ukrainian military and civilians heavily dependent on Starlink's internet service since the Russian invasion over 18 months ago. Musk has suggested that he could not underwrite this service forever, which has rankled American officials — because it's not like he can't afford it.
An advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Mykhailo Podolyak, tweeted Thursday, "Sometimes a mistake is much more than just a mistake... As a result [of Musk's decision], civilians, children are being killed. This is the price of a cocktail of ignorance and big ego."
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