Elon Musk — the Tesla co-founder and SpaceX chief technology officer; owner, chairman and CTO of X, the company formerly known as Twitter, and world’s richest person — has long been a powerful figure on the global stage.
But revelations in a newly published biography of the outspoken entrepreneur suggest that Musk may have amassed too much power, especially when it comes to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
According to Walter Issacson's book, “,” the mercurial tech mogul refused to allow Ukraine to use SpaceX’s Starlink satellite communications to launch a surprise drone submarine attack on Russian forces in Crimea last September. Musk refused over concerns that Russia would launch a nuclear attack in response, telling Isaacson that he was trying to avoid a “mini-Pearl Harbor.”
“He believed it was reckless for Ukraine to launch an attack on Crimea, which Russia had annexed in 2014,” Isaacson wrote. “He had just spoken to the Russian ambassador to the United States [who] had explicitly told him that a Ukrainian attack on Crimea would lead to a nuclear response.
So Musk “decided not to enable Starlink coverage of the Crimean coast,” Isaacson continued. “When the Ukrainian military learned that Starlink would not allow a successful attack, Musk got frantic calls and texts asking him to turn the coverage on.”
Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, begged Musk to reconsider. “We made the sea drones ourselves, they can destroy any cruiser or submarine,” he texted using an encrypted app. “I did not share this information with anyone. I just want you — the person who is changing the world through technology — to know this.”
According to Isaacson, Musk was soon on the phone with Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other high-ranking administration officials to address their concerns about his decision.
“Whether intended or not, he had become a power broker U.S. officials couldn’t ignore,” CNN noted this week.
“There was an emergency request from government authorities to activate Starlink all the way to Sevastopol. The obvious intent being to sink most of the Russian fleet at anchor,” Musk . “If I had agreed to their request, then SpaceX would be explicitly complicit in a major act of war and conflict escalation.”
The decision drew praise from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who called Musk “an outstanding person” at an economic forum in eastern Russia earlier this week.
Senate launches probe
The episode has drawn the attention of Congress, which has launched an investigation into Musk’s actions in Ukraine.
that the Senate Armed Services committee is looking into national security issues raised by Musk’s decision not to extend the private Starlink satellite network to aid a Ukrainian attack on Russian warships.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the committee’s chairman, said in a statement Thursday that the reports on the use of Starlink exposed “serious national-security liability issues” given the “outsized role Mr. Musk and his company have taken.”
“Neither Elon Musk, nor any private citizen, can have the last word when it comes to U.S. national security,” Reed added.
Musk to meet with Netanyahu
The tech billionaire’s influence on world affairs does not appear to be waning.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet Musk during a trip to the United States next week, Netanyahu's office said Thursday.
Their meeting, which is scheduled for Monday, will reportedly include discussions about artificial intelligence.
“It comes at a time when Musk is facing accusations of tolerating antisemitic messages on his social media platform X,” . “The Anti-Defamation League, a prominent Jewish civil-rights organization, has accused Musk of allowing antisemitism and hate speech to spread on X. Its director, Jonathan Greenblatt, said Musk had ‘amplified’ the messages of neo-Nazis and white supremacists who want to ban the league by engaging with them recently on X.”