Ukraine’s GUR unit said on Telegram on Sunday that it had evidence that Russian forces were using the terminals in Donetsk Oblast, eastern Ukraine.
The report came days after a US military publication published a photo provided by a Ukrainian source purporting to show a Starlink terminal on the front line. It was captured in a video by a Ukrainian drone participating in a strike on a Russian position.
“Yes, there have been recorded cases of the Russian occupiers using these devices,” said Andriy Yusov, GUR spokesperson. “This is starting to take on a systemic nature.”
Mr Musk’s Starlink proved vital to Ukraine’s defence of Kyiv at the start of the invasion in February 2022 after the billionaire provided thousands of terminals.
They gave Kyiv’s forces a vital technological advantage in the form of high-speed internet for communications, targeting and battlefield management software.
But Mr Musk later denied Ukraine use of the satellites in Russian-occupied territories after Kyiv wanted to use the system to hit targets in Crimea, according to a biography of the billionaire published last autumn.
The decision caused fury in Kyiv and among the wider Ukraine population.
In a statement on Sunday evening, Mr Musk denied allegations that he was selling Starlink terminals to Russia.
“A number of false news reports claim that SpaceX is selling Starlink terminals to Russia,” he wrote on X. “This is categorically false. To the best of our knowledge, no Starlinks have been sold directly or indirectly to Russia.”
But the Black Sea Strategy Institute, a Ukrainian think tank, suggested this does not amount to a denial that Russian forces are using Starlink.
“The use of Mr Musk’s technology by Russian troops in eastern Ukraine does not disprove this,” it wrote on Telegram, suggesting that Moscow was purchasing the systems from third-party countries.
Various Ukrainian channels have reported that Russian forces could have obtained the terminals via intermediaries in Dubai, though SpaceX also denied that Starlink operates in Dubai.
One of the Russian volunteer efforts I profile on a regular basis, KatyaValya that is based in Donbas, is displaying their recent purchase of DJI drones and Starlink terminals. https://t.co/GGcI9GW8lG pic.twitter.com/to3D66CGSQ
— Samuel Bendett (@sambendett) February 8, 2024
Reacting to the Ukrainian intelligence unit report, Kremlin-approved Russian military blogger Colonelcassad claimed that the Starlink terminals could be “easily purchased from any third country that has not imposed sanctions against Russia”.
“There are many such countries,” he wrote on Telegram. “You can safely buy the terminals abroad and import them to Russia.”
One Russian volunteer group based in Donbas, eastern Ukraine, posted a video last week claiming to show dozens of Starlink terminals it had recently purchased. Neither Colonelcassad’s claims nor the volunteer group’s video could be confirmed.