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Ukraine claims Russia uses Starlink in war, Musk denies

Ukraine’s main military intelligence agency has claimed that Russian forces in occupied territories are using Starlink terminals produced by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. The company and the billionaire say this isn’t true.

In a statement, the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine (GUR) says it has confirmed the use of Starlink systems by Russia at the frontlines in the eastern part of the invaded country.

According to the GUR, radio interception of Russian soldiers’ conversation shows that the terminals were installed in the units of Russia’s 83rd air assault brigade. They are operating in the partially occupied Donetsk region near Klishchiivka and Andriivka.

Starlink terminals were rushed into Ukraine after Russia invaded in February 2022 and are said to be vital to Kyiv’s battlefield communications. The US Department of Defence is purchasing the terminals from SpaceX for use in Ukraine from June 2023.

However, if Ukraine is right, it would potentially mean that Musk is selling Starlink access to the Pentagon for use by Ukraine, and to Moscow for use against Ukraine.

Musk and SpaceX are saying that the reports are “categorically false,” though. On X, the social network owned by Musk, Starlink’s account said that the firm does not do business of any kind with Russia’s government or military.

“If SpaceX obtains knowledge that a Starlink terminal is being used by a sanctioned or unauthorized party, we investigate the claim and take actions to deactivate the terminal if confirmed,” Starlink said.

Musk also said on X that the news reports were false: “To the best of our knowledge, no Starlinks have been sold directly or indirectly to Russia.”

Some analysts have said that the denials didn’t say anything about the terminals’ possible use in occupied parts of Ukraine. Starlink systems are supposed to be “geofenced” to block their use in unauthorized locations but Russian forces may have “spoofed” the geofence to make a terminal in a blocked area appear as if it is in a permitted area.

Besides, the situation at the front is fluid so Russian troops might have easily intercepted Starlink terminals in areas that were cleared for their use earlier but have since been seized by the occupiers.

According to Defense One’s sources, Russian forces appear to be using dozens of terminals now. “When they have hundreds, it’ll be hard for us to live,” said the source, adding that Russian forces have been purchasing Starlink terminals from abroad through third parties.

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