As reported by CNN, the media has obtained documents that show that last month Elon Musk’s company SpaceX sent a letter to the Pentagon in which it said that it could no longer continue to finance the Starlink service as it had done before. The letter also asked the Pentagon to take over funding for the Ukrainian government and military use of Starlink, which SpaceX says will cost more than $120 million by the end of the year and could cost about $400 million over the next 12 months.
“We are not in a position to further donate terminals to Ukraine, or fund the existing terminals for an indefinite period of time,” SpaceX’s director of government sales wrote in a September letter to the Pentagon.
To date, about 20,000 units of Starlink satellite terminals have been delivered to Ukraine, with Musk tweeting on Friday that “the operation cost SpaceX $80 million and will exceed $100 million by the end of the year.”
Among the SpaceX documents sent to the Pentagon and seen by CNN is a previously unreported direct request made to Musk in July by the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi for nearly 8,000 additional Starlink terminals.
In a separate cover letter to the Pentagon, an outside consultant working for SpaceX wrote: “SpaceX faces terribly difficult decisions here. I do not think they have the financial ability to provide any additional terminals or service as requested by General Zaluzhnyi.”
The letters come amid recent reports of widespread frontline Starlink disruptions. Sources familiar with the situation said the disruptions unexpectedly affected the entire front line as it stood on September 30.
“That has affected every effort of the Ukrainians to push past that front,” said one person familiar with the disruptions, who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity. “Starlink is the main way units on the battlefield have to communicate.”
According to another CNN interlocutor, the Ukrainian military did not receive a warning about possible interruptions, he also added that now that Ukraine is liberating the territory, it is necessary to submit a request to the company to include Starlink services.
The Financial Times was the first to report about the outages, which led to a “catastrophic” loss of communication, according to a senior Ukrainian official. In his tweet in response to the article, Elon Musk did not deny the fact of outages, saying that what is happening on the battlefield is classified.
SpaceX’s proposal to stop funding Starlink also comes amid growing concern in Ukraine about Musk’s loyalty. Recently, Musk published a peace plan, offensive to Ukrainians on Twitter, which provides for Ukraine’s relinquishment of Crimea and control over the eastern part of Luhansk and Donetsk regions.
After the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyi, asked the question about whose side Musk was on, he replied that he “still very much supports Ukraine”, but fears “a massive escalation”.
Musk also said privately last month that Ukraine does not want peace talks right now, and that if they go along with his plan, “Russia will accept those terms,” according to a person who heard them.
On Tuesday, Elon Musk denied reports that he personally spoke with Putin about Ukraine. On Thursday, when the Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine Mykhailo Fedorov tweeted that Starlink is important for Ukraine’s infrastructure, Musk replied: “You’re most welcome. Glad to support Ukraine.”
SpaceX’s demand that the U.S. military foot the bill has raised concerns among senior Pentagon officials, with one senior defense official telling CNN that SpaceX has “the gall to look like heroes” while having others pay so much and now presenting them with a bill for tens of millions of dollars per month.
According to SpaceX data provided to the Pentagon, about 85% of the 20,000 terminals in Ukraine were paid for or partially paid for by countries such as the United States and Poland or other entities. These organizations also paid about 30% of the Internet connection, which, according to SpaceX, costs $4,500 per terminal per month. (Over the weekend, Musk tweeted that there are about 25,000 terminals in Ukraine).
In his July letter to Musk, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, General Zaluzhnyi highly appreciated the “exceptional utility” of the Starlink units and said the military had deployed about 4,000 terminals. However, about 500 terminals are destroyed each month during hostilities, Zaluzhnyi wrote, after which he asked for another 6, 200 terminals for the Ukrainian military and intelligence services and 500 terminals each month in the future to compensate for the losses.