SpaceX founder Elon Musk said Monday afternoon that the funding request the company had made to the Pentagon to start picking up the bill for satellite internet services for Ukraine has been withdrawn.
Musk’s announcement on Twitter followed an exclusive CNN report that SpaceX made a request to the Pentagon in September saying they were no longer able to donate the critical Starlink terminals or support the expensive accompanying service “for an indefinite period of time.” SpaceX asked the Pentagon to start paying for the service for the current terminals operated by the Ukrainian government as well as fund almost 8,000 new terminals and service for Ukraine’s military and intelligence services.
After the CNN report revealed the request and showed in greater detail that SpaceX is not solely responsible for Starlink access in Ukraine (in fact numerous international efforts funded much of it), Musk tweeted on Saturday: “To hell with it…even though Starlink is still losing money & other companies are getting billions of taxpayer $, we’ll just keep funding the Ukraine govt for free.”
Musk’s tweet on Monday went a bit farther, saying the step had been taken to rescind the request to the Defense Department.
CNN has asked the Pentagon if SpaceX has withdrawn its request for funding.
Two sources briefed on the discussions between SpaceX and the Pentagon told CNN that as of Friday, before Musk’s apparent about face, the Pentagon had in fact agreed to the request from SpaceX to pay for ongoing service for Ukraine’s government and the new request from Ukraine’s commanding general.
That funding request was for $124 million for the remainder of 2022. It’s unclear what the final amount or terms agreed to were.
“To be precise, 25,300 terminals were sent to Ukraine, but, at present, only 10,630 are paying for service,” Musk said Monday.
The SpaceX letter to the Pentagon on September 8 said the company had paid for around 70% of the internet service of Ukraine’s terminals – which is valued at as much as $4,500 per month – but had fully funded only around 15% of the 20,000 terminals. The rest was paid for by governments like the US, UK and Poland as well as private initiatives.
On Monday, before Musk tweeted, a senior defense official told reporters the Pentagon had not paid SpaceX anything for Starlink in Ukraine “at this time.”
“It’s something that we’re discussing with SpaceX in terms of what potential support could be provided, but at this point, the DoD has not paid for the SpaceX services as it relates to Starlink in Ukraine,” the official said.
Some European countries have voiced support for funding SpaceX’s Starlink in Ukraine, a European official told CNN.
The topic was informally discussed at the European Union’s Foreign Affair Council Monday, the official said.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said Saturday that “Ukraine’s internet connectivity is too important to be left in the hands of one private individual.”
“Let’s find a way to form a coalition of Ukraine’s allies to pay for Starlink, or let’s find an alternative supplier. Lithuania is ready to contribute,” he said in a tweet.
Musk has come under considerable criticism for pushing a peace plan that many view as overtly pro-Russian, which would include officially giving Crimea to Russia.
On Monday he continued to push his proposal, saying: “If Russia is faced with the choice of losing Crimea or using battlefield nukes, they will choose the latter.”
CNN’s Jennifer Hansler, Barbara Starr and Ellie Kaufman contributed to this report.