Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly commended tech tycoon Elon Musk, describing him as an “outstanding person” and a pivotal figure in the space transportation sector on Tuesday, September 12th. These comments follow closely on the heels of Musk’s disclosure that he declined a Ukrainian plea to activate his Starlink satellite communication system in the Russian-occupied Crimean city of Sevastopol. The intent behind this request was to facilitate an assault on Russia’s Black Sea fleet. Musk expressed concerns over becoming an accomplice in a significant act of warfare.
While addressing an economic forum in Russia’s Far East, Putin refrained from commenting on the Starlink episode. However, he was unreserved in his praise for Musk’s SpaceX achievements. “As far as private business and Elon Musk is concerned…he is undoubtedly an outstanding person. This must be recognized, and I think it is recognized all over the world,” Putin remarked. He further acknowledged how sharp Musk was in regard to business decisions, emphasizing his accomplishments, partly facilitated by the support of the American government.
In September 2022, Musk turned down a Ukrainian request to use the Starlink satellite communication system, as detailed in Walter Isaacson’s new biography. The objective was to use Starlink internet for a surprise strike on Russian naval vessels stationed in Sevastopol. Musk’s refusal was grounded in his reluctance to be implicated in the conflict, saying “If I had agreed to their request, then SpaceX would be explicitly complicit in a major act of war and conflict escalation.” This decision has drawn criticism from Ukrainian leadership and sparked debates on private enterprises’ role in geopolitical affairs.
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, known for his hardline stance on Ukraine, also lauded Musk on the X social media platform, formerly known as Twitter. He described Musk as “the last adequate mind in North America.” On the other hand, Ukrainian officials have censured Musk’s choice to shield the Russian fleet from a potential Ukrainian offensive. U.S. Democratic Party Senator Elizabeth Warren has advocated for an inquiry into Musk’s actions, emphasizing the need for proper analysis of whether the government has “tools to make sure foreign policy is conducted by the government and not by one billionaire.”
The Starlink controversy has underscored the intricate interplay between business and politics on the global stage. With private entities like SpaceX wielding significant influence, the boundaries between corporate decisions and geopolitical ramifications are becoming increasingly blurred.