Despite slower-than-expected progress on the Starship megarocket, SpaceX's aerospace technology is changing the world. It now owns more than half of all orbiting satellites for its Starlink internet service, and this new breed of satellite connectivity has become a vital tool for Ukrainian forces as they attempt to hold off a Russian invasion. Recent reports claimed that Russian forces have adopted Starlink despite sanctions, but the Kremlin has responded, weakly denying the report. Musk, too, has expressed skepticism.
Maintaining communication with military forces is vital in any combat scenario, so Russian forces focused on destroying Ukrainian telecom systems at the outset of the invasion in February 2022. In an uncharacteristic show of generosity, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk began supplying Starlink terminals to Ukraine that spring. Russia was displeased and has suggested it could destroy Starlink satellites in retaliation.
However, Russia's forces may be using Starlink instead of blowing it up. The Ukrainian defense ministry said in recent days that Russian forces have been seen using Starlink equipment. It provided an audio recording that allegedly features two Russian soldiers discussing how to set up Starlink. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denies the claim, says Reuters. "This is not a certified system with us; accordingly, it cannot be officially supplied here and is not officially supplied. Accordingly, it cannot be used officially in any way."
The unusual emphasis on "certification" and "official" use leaves the Kremlin some wiggle room. Some of the units fighting against Ukrainian forces are separatist groups supplied by Russia. If they were using Starlink in Ukraine, Peskov's statement could still be technically true. However, Ukraine maintains that it's Russian forces that are toting around Starlink dishes. It points to Russia's 83rd Air Assault Brigade as one such unit, which is fighting in eastern Donetsk (one of the Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine).
Previous reports claim the terminals are being sold to firms in Dubai, which then activate them and export the hardware to Russia. This could violate US sanctions against Russia, but SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said on X (formerly Twitter) that the reports are inaccurate. "To the best of our knowledge, no Starlinks have been sold directly or indirectly to Russia," said Musk.