Update: SpaceX And Ukraine Are Looking For a Way To Disable Starlink for Russian Troops

13th Feb 2024
Update: SpaceX And Ukraine Are Looking For a Way To Disable Starlink for Russian Troops

Reuters reported on 12th February about alleged Russian use of SpaceX’s Starlink system. The news service claimed that the allegations were made by Security Bureau of Ukraine (SBU) spokesperson Andriy Yusov in Kyiv. Elon Musk has denied the use by Russian soldiers.

When asked by Reuters where the Starlink sets were coming from, Yusov claimed that they were purchased by third parties. Their usage by Russian armed forces was growing, he said.

SpaceX in talks with Ukraine over Starlink in Russia

Update 2: 19th February

Ukrainian Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov told Suspilne Media today that he had spoken with Elon Musk about the Russian military units’ use of the Starlink system.

He also stated that the Ukrainian side had offered to adapt a Starlink system so that Russians could not use it in Ukraine. Fedorov claimed that the conversations were held before the story broke.

“We looked, analyzed the case that was just in Israel, when the escalation of the conflict in Gaza just now began. How did they get out of such a situation. We found a suitable algorithm, offered SpaceX, and now we have a clear communication about how to do this. so that there are no similar cases,” Fedorov said.

At the same time, the minister noted that he does not know how the relevant situation will be resolved.

“But we found this algorithm, we proposed it. To be more precise, SpaceX has already done something similar with the Israeli government, so we proposed it,” the official continued.

Commenting on recent Elon Musk’s statements about the Russian-Ukrainian war, Fedorov said that he doesn’t believe Musk has secretly sold Starlink terminals and access.

“It was logical that they would begin to purchase and import them through third countries. They had Starlink, they were already imported, it’s just that now it became public, there were a little more of them. That is, probably one of their entrepreneurs began to monetize it, and it took on some kind of separate life. Technologically, it is necessary to exclude Starlink, which they use, and make sure that ours continue to work,” Fedorov added.

Musk denies selling Starlink terminals to Russia

Updated on 19th February

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has denied that Starlink ground terminals are being used by Russian military personnel who have invaded Ukraine. The claim, according to Business Insider on Yahoo, is that Starlink terminals will not be operating in Russia.

If Starlink’s geofencing follows internationally recognised borders, then it is important to note that the units operated by Russian military personnel who have invaded Ukraine would be in… Ukraine.

SpaceX has not provided any information about the use of Starlink terminals by Russian military personnel in Ukraine, where such terminals are working. Orbital Today is contacting SpaceX about the issue and will update if and when a response is received.

In the meantime, a helpful map from the Canadian representation at NATO might help. As it is a verified account on X, the SpaceX team can trust it.

Starlink denials

The company issued a statement that emphasizing that no terminals had been sent to Russia. Likewise, Russian officials said that the terminals were not certified for use within Russia and that they were not officially supplied to Russia, so this was impossible.

Geofencing points to problems

Neither Starlink nor the Kremlin have addressed anything other than direct sales to Russian entities. However, given the fact that the sales were made via third parties the likelihood of a Russian unit getting hold of a terminal is quite high.

A problem arises for the Ukrainian police as well as Starlink. If the terminals are geofenced, then they must have been made available to someone claiming to represent users in Ukraine. Russian sympathizers within Ukraine or those imitating a volunteer group outside of the country would be able to purchase and then reroute the equipment. Yusov stated that the items were coming from third countries, which leads to problems outside of investigating locally.

Through Yusov, the Ukrainian government claimed that it was taking steps to stem Russia’s acquisition and use of the terminals. Starlink has not said anything about the steps that it is taking, other than when someone complains about a specific user, the company does investigate that user and terminates usage if irregularities are found. Neither said anything about cooperating to prevent Russian use.

At the moment, no publicly known way to account for terminals taken from the battlefield has been unveiled. Given the relatively static nature of the fighting in the last several months, the number of acquired terminals should be rather low.

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