A message and boom. A tweet of 275 characters was enough on Monday, October 3, for the American Elon Musk to get angry with all Ukrainian officials, when he had so far enjoyed a great aura for his positions. The billionaire, in fact, saw fit to publish a survey on a very personal interpretation of the war. A peace proposal between kyiv and Moscow, he suggests, could be based on new referendums under UN supervision, the surrender of Crimea to Russia and a “neutral status” for Ukraine.
– 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 Khrushchev’s mistake).
– Water supply to Crimea assured.
– Ukraine remains neutral.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 3, 2022
In summary, it is a surrender of Ukraine on major points of the conflict, without any Russian counterpart. The billionaire’s legions of fans did the rest, as with each of his outings, and the SpaceX founder quickly became the number one topic of discussion on social networks. Above all, this message aroused very strong reactions in kyiv.
“My very diplomatic response is to screw you”, launched the Ukrainian ambassador in Germany, Andrij Melnyk. Mykhaïlo Podoliak, adviser to the presidency, suggested in return the “release” of “Annexed Crimea” by Ukraine, a “demilitarization and denuclearization” of Russia, and international trials for the “war criminals”. Even President Volodymyr Zelensky entered the loop, with another poll: “Which Elon Musk do you prefer, the one who supports Ukraine or the one who supports Russia?” The reactions have also crossed the borders, to neighboring countries.
“Dear Elon Musk, when someone tries to steal the wheels from your Tesla, that doesn’t make them the owner of the wheels or the car.”Gitanas Nauseda, President of Lithuania
Relations, however, have so far been warm. And everything had already started with a tweet posted on February 26, two days after the start of the war. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Mykhaïlo Fedorov spoke directly to the billionaire, asking him for satellite assistance to maintain communication services in the country. It only took about ten hours for SpaceX to satisfy this request from kyiv. “The service is now active in Ukraine”had written Elon Musk, in a message collecting more than 800,000 “likes”.
Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals on the way.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 26, 2022
The explanation, in reality, is a little less prosaic. Indeed, Starlink had already been looking for a month and a half to deploy its system in Ukraine, explained (in English) a manager, Gwynne Shotwell, a few days later. Since then, the company has been waiting for government authorization, a request that has visibly fallen into oblivion. Fedorov’s tweet was eventually interpreted by SpaceX as an official document, unlocking the situation for both parties. And the first terminals arrived in Ukraine two days later, to the delight of the Deputy Prime Minister.
— Mykhailo Fedorov (@FedorovMykhailo) February 28, 2022
“Elon Musk has rockets to launch his own satellites, in a constellation created by him, to broadcast the internet wherever he wants”explains Olivier Lascar, author of the book Investigation of Elon Musk, the man who defies science. Before Ukraine, SpaceX had already come to the aid of Tonga (in English), after the volcanic eruption that had devastated the submarine communication cables. But “this vertical business” laid “important questions of governance and monopoly”. In fact, fault “from linesman or outside point of view”nothing technically prevents him from helping whoever he wants in the future.
So far, Elon Musk has always defended the same camp. “I challenge Vladimir Putin to a man-to-man fight. Do you accept?”he had notably written to the Russian president, in mid-March. “Given the circumstances, it was a joke at best in bad taste, at worst obscene”, comments Olivier Lascar. But nothing surprising. With “hubris and excess”the demiurge billionaire regularly shares his opinion, well beyond industry or technology. “He’s one of those characters who has little superego. There are few limits to his expression, and whatever goes through his brain then slides onto the keyboard.”
“Elon Musk is in a narrative where he really thinks he is acting for the good of humanity.”Olivier Lascar, journalist at “Sciences et Avenir”
At the end of March, a franceinfo team met a second in command of the Azov regiment in Mariupol. With Starlink, he congratulated himself then, “we have an internet connection and we can use it with Messenger”in addition to “secret military lines of communication”. In May, every day, the Starlink service provided internet to 150,000 people in Ukraine, according to Mykhailo Fedorov. Which greeted this “crucial support for Ukraine’s infrastructure and the restoration of destroyed territories.”
All it took was one night, and one tweet, to upset the image of Elon Musk in the country, going from the rank of space entrepreneur to that of fallen star. To the point, moreover, that the Ukrainian TV presenter Serguiy Prytula, who regularly organizes fundraisers for the army, relays a kitty for “offer a history textbook” to the billionaire.
Responding to the criticism, Elon Musk moved forward on Tuesday with financial arguments. “SpaceX has invested approximately $80 million for the launch and support of Starlink in Ukraine”was he justified. “Our support for Russia is $0. It is clear that we are on the side of Ukraine.” The billionaire also detailed the background of his thinking, judging that a Ukrainian attempt to retake Crimea would result in a high number of deaths, not to mention a probable failure and the risk of nuclear war.
For their part, the Russian media have made a feast of these exchanges between kyiv and Elon Musk. Russian experts take turns interpreting the controversy, just as Russia is trying to blow out the embers of internal dissension in the United States and Europe. “Anyone who proposes a peaceful solution is accused of cowardice” by kyiv, commented one of them, during an interview with the propagandist Vladimir Soloviev. Even the former Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, commented on it by proposing, with irony, to award him a “extraordinary officer rank”.