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Russian Forces Are Reportedly Using Starlink in Ukraine: Newsweek

The Russo-Ukrainian War has dragged on for nearly two years with no end in sight, but Russia has a new tool at its disposal. Numerous reports claim that Russia has caught up to Ukraine, possibly neutralizing one of its most significant advantages. The invaders fighting in Ukraine have started using SpaceX Starlink service for battlefield communication.

The availability of Starlink in Ukraine was an early advantage for the defenders, much to the displeasure of Moscow, which put SpaceX CEO Elon Musk in a few tough spots. This one might be even tougher, though.

Starlink is not officially available in Russia, which is the subject of numerous economic sanctions in the wake of its Ukraine invasion. However, Newsweek reports that Ukrainian soldiers have started to talk about the sudden presence of Starlink dishes among Russian units. The service may not work inside Russia, but it allegedly works just fine in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine: Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia. Yet, SpaceX's own overage map (below) does not show active service in the disputed region.

Russian news services have started reporting that Starlink equipment is being made available at numerous retailers in the country. The systems are not actually earmarked for Russia—they're being purchased by companies in Dubai, which activate them and then resell the systems in Russia. The dishes are being distributed to the Russian volunteer units operating in occupied Ukraine, say Russian sources.

Starlink Ukraine Map

SpaceX does not show Starlink as active in Russian-occupied Ukraine, but the latest reports on the ground say different. Credit: SpaceX

While Starlink is not active in Russia, allowing Russian forces to import the system now that it's known would still constitute a violation of US sanctions. This situation could become a major headache for Musk and SpaceX, even though there's no evidence the company was aware of Russia's use of Starlink. Russian forces are operating in the same region as Ukrainian forces, so the company can't just cut off access in occupied territory. SpaceX may have to try and identify the resold terminals to block them.

SpaceX relies on US government contracts for most of its revenue, and Starlink is being developed into a secure communication system for US government agencies and the military. SpaceX's technology could be used to build weapons, so the government has some say over how and where it can provide services under arms treaties. Musk is keen to puff himself up on Twitter, but knowingly violating sanctions is probably inviting unwanted attention. He previously had to do some damage control after biographer Walter Isaacson revealed that Musk disabled Starlink around Crimea to prevent a major Ukrainian strike. Isaacson later walked back that claim, saying that Musk had instead simply refused to turn Starlink on for the attack.


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