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Elon Musk, the Pentagon, and Twitter: What is Happening?

A picture of Elon Musk and his Twitter account. Image credit: Jordan Kranse.


 


Recently, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, Elon Musk, has made the headlines for allegedly asking the Pentagon to fund his internet-providing activities in Ukraine. This ambitious endeavor started in 2015 under “Starlink” when SpaceX launched low-Earth-orbit satellites to facilitate internet access worldwide.  


 


A recent Tweet uploaded by a user identified as alex_avoigt unveiled the current cracks between the magnate and the US administration. The tweet reported clearly that the Pentagon is not financing Musk’s operations in Ukraine: “Pentagon Speaker: 'So far, Musk's space company SpaceX has not been paid anything for the operation of the Internet service Starlink in Ukraine.” 


 


Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Musk has been providing Ukraine with Starlink terminals to offer internet access to citizens and the military. This action was greatly appreciated by the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, who thanked the CEO. Nevertheless, Musk recently stated that this charitable act could end soon. According to CNN, Musk sent a letter to the Pentagon saying that Starlink has donated about 20,000 satellites to Ukraine. He added that the overall cost of this operation amounted to 80 million dollars, a sum bound to grow even more by the end of the year. In the letter, Starlink allegedly warned the Pentagon that the company lacks the necessary resources to continue funding the project. Therefore, the Pentagon should take over since the company could not bear any more costs reaching 400 million dollars within the next 12 months.


 


But there is something more involved. The announcement that Starlink could not continue financing the project seemed to have come after the Ambassador of Ukraine to Germany, Andrij Melnyk, insulted the CEO in a Tweet by saying, “Fuck off is my very diplomatic reply to you @elonmusk.” This strong reaction came after Musk’s tweet containing some suggestions about possible peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. More precisely, he suggested that a new referendum be organized under the aegis of the UN to let people decide the faith of the recently annexed regions. Moreover, he said that Ukraine should maintain its neutrality and that Crimea should remain under Moscow’s jurisdiction as it was Khrushchev’s mistake to give it away to Ukraine. As expected, the tweet caused a stir on social media, with the most striking reply being that from the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany. 


 


Many have interpreted Musk’s decision to resort to the Pentagon as dictated by personal reasons. This interpretation persists despite the CEO explaining that Starlink is making no profit as the company spends about 20 million dollars monthly to provide Ukraine with internet service. Moreover, he added that Starlink provided not only terminals but also satellites and ground stations, which entail high maintenance costs.


 


Nevertheless, and against all odds, the CEO officially confirmed Starlink’s support for Ukraine in a new tweet. He said clearly, "The hell with it … even though Starlink is still losing money & other companies are getting billions of taxpayer $, we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free”. This tweet was followed by a recent one where the magnate laconically stated, “SpaceX has already withdrawn its funding request.”  


 


This unexpected response, though, does not erase his previous statements. The US administration remains concerned about Musk’s ambiguous utterances concerning cutting Starlink operations in Ukraine and peace talks with Russia. This is spurring the Biden administration to take action and thoroughly check Musk’s entrepreneurial endeavors for compliance with national security. One of his latest deals, currently ongoing and the main point of concern for the Biden administration, is the purchase of Twitter. While he would intend to make this social media platform a means of free speech by removing spam accounts, concerns are related to the presence of non-US investors. Among them are the Saudi Arabian investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud and Qatar Holding, which is part of the Qatar Investment Authority. The deal is expected to be completed on October 28. 


 


Although the White House spokeswoman, Adrienne Watson, stated that no security review on Musk has been carried out or discussed, the powerful CEO may nevertheless face interference from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS) concerning the Twitter deal. This organization reviews foreign investors' foreign acquisitions and investments in US businesses that may endanger national security.


 


The South African-born entrepreneur became a US citizen in 2002. Although he refused any political label, he defined himself as half Democrat and half Republican in an attempt to convey the idea of the politically independent entrepreneur. Despite this alleged neutrality, he has often engaged in political matters like the China-Taiwan issue and the more recent peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, as well as openly shown his disappointment vis-a-vis US presidents like Trump and Biden. 


 


Edited by: Lou Igounet


 


 


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