WASHINGTON — Sen. Elizabeth Warren called for a probe Tuesday following a claim that Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk curbed a Ukrainian military operation aimed at Russia’s Black Sea fleet last year by limiting access to SpaceX’s Starlink satellite network, a report said.
“Congress needs to investigate what’s happened here, and whether we have adequate tools to make sure foreign policy is conducted by the government and not by one billionaire,” Warren, D-Mass., said Monday, according to Bloomberg.
CNBC has reached out to Warren’s office to confirm.
The call stems from an excerpt released last week from biographer Walter Isaacson’s book titled “Elon Musk,” in which he details how a Ukrainian drone sneak attack on the Russian fleet was disrupted by a disconnect from Starlink. The book was released on Tuesday.
In an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” Isaacson further elaborated on the excerpt from the biography that triggered alarm bells in Washington, among NATO allies and the Ukrainian capital.
Isaacson said developing a military-grade version of Starlink will help resolve concerns expressed by Tesla and Musk regarding the satellite networks’ use in combat.
“Let us have a certain number of Starlink services and then later a more military version where we get to control it,” Isaacson said on “Squawk Box,” describing a discussion between Musk and the U.S. government.
“Elon Musk said, ‘yes,’ and that’s the right outcome,” Isaacson added.
Crimea, a peninsula that Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014, is home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet. In the days following the Ukraine invasion in February 2022, those ships fired missiles on Ukrainian coastal cities while setting up a naval blockade.
A top aide to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy slammed Musk after the biography revelation last week.
“By not allowing Ukrainian drones to destroy part of the Russian military fleet via Starlink interference, Elon Musk allowed this fleet to fire Kalibr missiles at Ukrainian cities,” Mykhailo Podolyak wrote Thursday on social media after CNN reported on some of the details from Isaacson’s book.
“As a result, civilians, children are being killed. This is the price of a cocktail of ignorance and big ego,” he added on X, which was formerly known as Twitter. Musk bought Twitter last year.
This photograph taken on September 25, 2022, shows an antenna of the Starlink satellite-based broadband system donated by the US tech billionaire Elon Musk in Izyum, Kharkiv region, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Yasuyoshi Chiba | AFP | Getty Images
Musk said in an X thread on Thursday evening that the connectivity policy for that area was already active before the attack: “The Starlink regions in question were not activated. SpaceX did not deactivate anything.”
“Both sides should agree to a truce. Every day that passes, more Ukrainian and Russian youth die to gain and lose small pieces of land, with borders barely changing. This is not worth their lives,” he added.
‘Starlink was not meant to be involved in wars’
Ukraine received Starlink terminals in the early days of the invasion. Ukraine’s digital minister, Mykhailo Fedorov, asked Musk for the capability and shared a post on social media when the units arrived in Ukraine.
In Ukraine, Starlink and its global network of more than 4,000 satellites have worked as the connective tissue for crucial battlefield communications.
According to Isaacson’s biography, the South African-born billionaire asked, “How am I in this war?”
“Starlink was not meant to be involved in wars. It was so people can watch Netflix and chill and get online for school and do good peaceful things, not drone strikes,” Musk said, according to the book.
He told Isaacson that he was worried the Ukrainian attack on Russian vessels in the Black Sea would provoke the Kremlin into launching a nuclear war.
“I think if the Ukrainian attacks had succeeded in sinking the Russian fleet, it would have been like a mini Pearl Harbor and led to a major escalation,” Musk said, according to Isaacson.
“We did not want to be a part of that,” he said.