A plan to end the war in Ukraine by ceding annexed territory to Russia floated by Elon Musk in a tweet is garnering praise straight from the Kremlin. On Tuesday, Russian state news agency IRA Novosti reported that Putin's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, called the proposal “positive.”The plan? A simple “yes/no” poll on Twitter that asked what Musk's followers thought of the following: "Redo elections of annexed regions under UN supervision Russia leaves if that is will of the people. Crimea formally part of Russia, as it has been since 1783 (until Khruschev's mistake). Water supply to Crimea assured. Ukraine remains neutral." Crimea, of course, was occupied and annexed by Russia in 2014.
Ukrainian officials were quick to condemn the stunt. Andrij Melnyk—Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany—told Musk to “fuck off.” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy chimed in with his own poll, asking followers “Which @elonmusk do you like more?” and a choice between one who supports Ukraine or Russia. RIA Novosti reported Peskov as saying that, "Unlike many professional diplomats, Elon Musk 'is still trying to look for ways to achieve peace,' while achieving peace without fulfilling Russia's conditions is impossible, " the outlet reported.As the response to his own poll shifted decidedly to "No,” Musk entertained the idea that responses were rigged, writing “The bot attack on this poll is strong!” in response to a user writing that "Ukrainian bots" would spam the voting. Peskov appeared to say the same to reporters on Tuesday, warning that, "First of all, they kept the bots who took such an active part in the voting awake." In the days since, Musk has gone to great lengths to try and reaffirm that he's onto something here while trying to maintain the image of supporting Ukraine in the conflict. In an argument with David Sacks, a venture capitalist podcaster, Musk wrote that SpaceX has spent about $80 million on Starlink devices for Ukraine. "Our support for Russia is $0. Obviously, we are pro Ukraine," Musk tweeted, adding that, "Trying to retake Crimea will cause massive death, probably fail & risk nuclear war. This would be terrible for Ukraine & Earth."
Musk's comments were widely disregarded as coming from someone with a poor grasp of world history—a criticism that has been directed at him before. He demonstrated this in an argument with Gary Kasparov, the world chess champion who has served as an anti-Putin Russian politician who has been beaten amid protests in the country and who dismissed Musk's plan as "moral idiocy, repetition of Kremlin propaganda, a betrayal of Ukrainian courage & sacrifice, and puts a few minutes browsing Crimea on Wikipedia over the current horrific reality of Putin's bloody war." Musk responded by asking Kasparov in a tweet, “What have you done besides tweet?” Just last week—in a tweet, of course—Musk tried to suggest that Starlink could help overcome Iran's digital crackdown amid anti-government protests. In Ukraine, Starlink infrastructure has been able to be deployed, but thanks to subsidies from U.S. government agencies and logistical support from the Ukrainian government. Musk has tried to dismiss reporting on government funding behind Starlink satellites as “just another bs WaPo hit piece."All of this is, of course, spectacle. Musk has a tendency to tweet and seize control of a news cycle, specifically when share prices are slumping or a negative story is building (sexual harassment allegations, negative developments in a lawsuit, a disappointing robot reveal, etc.). It's staggering to think that he is so reckless as to tweet a pro-Russian solution to the conflict in Ukraine at a critical moment and not think it would be dragged into the arena of geopolitical debate on both sides, but then again, his addiction to posting is legendary and has gotten him into trouble plenty of times before. The billionaire won’t solve the Ukraine conflict, but his tweets will serve as ammunition in the short- and medium-term for whoever wants to use them. As for what purpose they serve for him, that's another question entirely.