SpaceX has withdrawn its request to the Pentagon that it fund the ongoing use of Starlink internet terminals in Ukraine, CEO Elon Musk said Monday. His statement (made on Twitter – where else?) comes just hours after it was reported that the Pentagon was considering footing the bill using a fund that finances contracts for weapons and equipment for the Ukrainian military.
Out of the 25,300 terminals that were sent to Ukraine, around 10,630 were paying for the satellite internet service, Musk added.
This marks the latest chapter in the ongoing saga over the fate of Starlink in Ukraine – a service that Ukranian officials say has become critical to the war effort, allowing troops and civilians to stay connected despite widespread destruction of conventional communications infrastructure, like cellphone towers. As late as July, a top Ukranian military official sent a direct request to Musk for almost 8,000 additional terminals, CNN reported.
CNN also reported that SpaceX had sent a letter to the Pentagon requesting it pick up funding for the Starlink service in Ukraine, news that generated major waves of controversy. Musk said the ongoing operation of the donated Starlink terminals has cost $80 million and will exceed $100 million by year’s end; meanwhile, in a letter SpaceX told the Pentagon, “We are not in a position to further donate terminals to Ukraine or fund the existing terminals for an indefinite period of time.”
But despite today’s news that SpaceX has withdrawn its request for funding, the long-term future of Starlink in Ukraine is by no means settled. Two days ago, Musk said “the hell with it […] we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free,” but as TechCrunch’s Devin Coldewey noted, this is by no means a long-term solution.
Earlier today, Politico reported that U.S. officials were considering funding the service through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, the financing fund mentioned earlier in this story. European Union foreign ministers also discussed the Starlink issue at a meeting today, Politico said. But whether the Pentagon – which has sent billions to support the war effort in Ukraine, funds which have gone to everything from ammunition to armored vehicles – will persist in picking up the tab now that SpaceX is no longer seeking financing is unclear.