In yet another maneuver that will surely confirm whatever you already think about him, Elon Musk’s SpaceX is asking the U.S. government to pay it some $400 million over the next 12 months to continue providing satellite-based internet to Ukrainian forces, according to a report by CNN and more or less confirmed in a tweet by Musk early Friday morning.
Back in February when Russia invaded Ukraine, Musk sent Starlink terminals to Ukraine's forces, providing them with internet service powered by SpaceX satellites. The service has proved useful as Russian forces targeted Ukrainian infrastructure, but has also faced outages and other service issues. Some 20,000 terminals, which are required to connect to the internet service, have been sent to Ukraine.
But, according to a SpaceX letter to the Pentagon from September obtained by CNN, SpaceX is looking for the Pentagon to start paying them for what it says is the full cost of providing that service, which could be as high as $400 million over the next year. According to that same letter, various governments are already paying a portion of the terminal costs as well as about 30 percent of the monthly expenses for connecting them to the internet.
“We are not in a position to further donate terminals to Ukraine, or fund the existing terminals for an indefinite period of time,” the SpaceX letter to the Pentagon said, according to CNN. SpaceX did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment and did not immediately reply to a Motherboard inquiry.
The letter was sent weeks before Musk very publicly injected himself into the geopolitics of the Ukrainian conflict, tweeting a poll on October 3 with a proposal for Ukraine to end the war by ceding vast swaths of territory to Russia that may or may not have come after Musk spoke with Putin but delighted Russian officials nonetheless. The poll prompted widespread ridicule. One of the most noteworthy responses to that poll came from Andrij Melnyk, an international lawyer and Ukrainian diplomat, who replied, “Fuck off is my very diplomatic reply to you @elonmusk.”
On Twitter—where else?—Musk said SpaceX’s letter to the Pentagon was “just following his recommendation” in response to a Kyiv Post correspondent pointing out the connection, even though the letter was sent almost a month before his Twitter poll.
The backpedal comes as Musk faces numerous intersecting crises: SpaceX—a company with a valuation of $127 billion in which Musk is the largest shareholder—losing lots of money due to the war in Ukraine, a personal liquidity crunch because he needs to finance a purchase of a social media company he is being forced to make against his will because he changed his mind after agreeing to buy it, and Tesla stock—where most of Musk’s wealth is tied up—has declined 37 percent this year.
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