Ukraine urges Musk’s Starlink to keep helping alongside weapons

Musk in turn is gaining the ability to test his Starlink dishes in new circumstances.
Image: Bloomberg

With Russia’s invasion entering its fourth month, sustaining the fight will require not only more weapons but also that billionaire Elon Musk keep facilitating access to high-speed broadband internet, Ukraine’s information minister said.

The SpaceX founder has provided over 12 000 Starlink dishes to Ukraine so far, Mykhailo Fedorov, the minister for digital transformation, said in an interview on Monday on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos. Those terminals are proving crucial in supporting infrastructure across Ukraine as it wages its own information war on social media against Russia.

Ukraine is getting the help from Musk free of charge, according to Fedorov, who added there may be a different arrangement between Musk and the US Agency for International Development and European entities which provided most of the Starlinks to Ukraine. He didn’t elaborate.

“All critical infrastructure uses Starlink, all structures that are needed for the state’s functioning use them,” Fedorov said. “We need to receive them constantly because they are one of the elements of the foundation of our fight and resilience.”

Musk in turn is gaining the ability to test his Starlink dishes in new circumstances. For the Tesla Inc. chief executive officer, Fedorov said, helping Ukraine is “also a unique experience for him. He will get to know a lot of new information about the technology he has created.”

That can be seen in the dishes Ukraine is receiving, as each new batch that comes is upgraded in some fashion, Fedorov said.

The co-operation with Musk was prompted by the 31-year-old minister, who appealed to Musk for help on Twitter shortly after the invasion started in late February. Since then, he said his country, international donors and Musk have been in close contact.

With the war dragging on — now focused on Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region after Russia’s failure to quickly take the capital — the passing weeks and months are raising concern among Ukrainian officials and others of momentum fading in international support, including economic and military assistance.

Addressing the WEF by video link on Monday, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged the global community to “act preventively” in its support. “Ukraine has little time,” he said. “I want you not to lose this unity.”

Fedorov also sounded a note of concern as to whether donors, companies and individuals will remain focused and committed to sending Ukraine financial aid. “Yes, of course we worry a lot” about losing momentum, he said.

For now, though, donations are still coming in. In cryptocurrency alone, Ukraine has received over $70 million in aid, he said, although he noted the flow was a little erratic.

Even social media platforms have stepped up their focus on eradicating fake content.

Fedorov said “direct communication” with Facebook owner Meta Platforms has improved and the company is doing more to delete questionable content. Ukraine does not have issues with other social media platforms, he said, noting YouTube also deleted over 9 000 disinformation videos.

For a minister without a budget, as all funds are now going toward the military’s needs, Fedorov praised the “IT army” of cyber companies and volunteers that has formed to fight against what he said were constant Russian cyberattacks.

Ukraine has been able to put up a fight in the cyber universe as well, by targeting Russian institutions like banks and government databases, Federov said. There’s also a lot of activity in the non-public sphere, he said, but declined to elaborate on whether Ukraine was targeting Russian military assets for cyberattacks.

While the country’s IT sector has been buoyed by the war, Fedorov also estimated as many as 10% of its IT specialists may choose to leave as soon as general conscription ends. “We must invest in education and reforms” to stop that, he said.

© 2022 Bloomberg

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