Ukraine Claims Russian Forces Utilizing Elon Musk’s Starlink in Occupied Territories

In the occupied region of Ukraine, Russian forces are reportedly making use of Starlink terminals provided by SpaceX, a company owned by Elon Musk. This utilization is now being characterized as having a “systemic” nature, as outlined by Kyiv’s primary military intelligence agency on a Sunday report.

The deployment of Starlink terminals was expedited to aid Ukraine following Russia’s invasion in February 2022, playing a crucial role in facilitating communication on the battlefield for Kyiv. Despite this, Starlink emphasizes that it does not engage in any business transactions with Russia’s government or military.

Andriy Yusov, spokesperson for the Ukrainian defense ministry’s Main Directorate of Intelligence (GUR), explained, “Instances of the Russian occupiers incorporating these devices into their operations have been recorded. This is indicative of a developing and systematic pattern.” The statement implies an increasing and organized application of Starlink technology by Russian forces in the occupied Ukrainian territories.

The agency has released a statement indicating that the Starlink terminals are in use by military units, specifically mentioning the involvement of Russia’s 83rd Air Assault Brigade. This brigade is actively participating in combat operations near the contested towns of Klishchiivka and Andriivka, which are located in the partially occupied eastern region of Donetsk. The information suggests that these satellite communication terminals play a role in the ongoing military activities in that region.

The Use of Starlink by Russia

Ukraine’s recent statements represent the first formal acknowledgment of Russia’s alleged deployment of Starlink.

Despite a Reuters request for comment, the Russian defense ministry has not provided an immediate response.

Earlier this week, information from two Ukrainian government sources revealed that Russian forces are reportedly utilizing Starlink in the occupied Ukrainian territory. One of the sources indicated ongoing efforts to gather more data on the scope and extent of this utilization. The revelation adds a layer of complexity to the ongoing situation, as it suggests a technological dimension to the conflict, highlighting the importance of monitoring and understanding the extent of satellite communication technology in the occupied regions.

The GUR agency disclosed that it had intercepted a communication exchange between two soldiers discussing the setup of the Starlink terminals. To substantiate this claim, the agency shared what it asserted to be an audio clip of the conversation on the Telegram messenger.

However, the agency did not provide insights into how it believed Russian forces obtained these terminals. The circumstances surrounding whether they were acquired internationally or seized from Ukrainian forces remain undisclosed.

Starlink, in response to the situation, clarified on February 8 that its terminals were not operational in Russia. Additionally, the company emphasized that SpaceX had never sold or promoted the service in Russia, and no equipment had been shipped to locations within the country.

In an issued statement on X, Starlink did not address the potential use of its terminals in the occupied areas of Ukraine, leaving this aspect unexplored.

The statement from Starlink also highlighted their proactive approach, stating, “If SpaceX becomes aware 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.” This underscores the company’s commitment to address any misuse of its technology. The situation brings attention to the complexities of monitoring and controlling technological assets in conflict zones and the potential implications for both military operations and civilian populations.

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