The United States and its allies are exploring methods of funding the operations of SpaceX’s Starlink satellite communications system in Ukraine or an alternative, as a result of waning faith in the leadership of the company.
Two United States officials that spoke to Politico claim that the Department of Defense is considering funding Starlink operation costs through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. The Initiative is a fund currently used to finance purchases of weapons and equipment from American manufacturers that are being delivered in months or years from contract signing. Another official involved said that there was little confidence that SpaceX head Elon Musk could be trusted given recent statements, necessitating exploration of alternate means of funding Starlink or a replacement system.
Meanwhile, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielus Landbergis told Politico that European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell had raised the subject of funding Starlink operations during a meeting on Monday, but said that the effort was still in its early stages. On October 15, Landbergis stated that Vilnius was ready to contribute as part of a coalition to fund Starlink operations or that of an alternative provider, tweeting that “Ukraine’s internet connectivity is too important to be left in the hands of one private individual.”
Ukrainian volunteers have disputed claims from Musk and his supporters on the scale of claimed Starlink donations and that the system is being insufficiently subsidized by Western governments, saying that they are paying for terminals and subscription costs out of their own funds. Dimko Zhluktenko, founder of the Dzyga’s Paw charity fund crowdfunding Starlink terminals and other supplies and equipment for Ukrainian troops, described Starlink connectivity as a “game changer” for Ukrainian forces. However, he added that “I have not seen ANY StarLink which was bought by the governments, or by SpaceX. All the Starlinks I have seen / used – were bought either by volunteers like myself, or soldiers put their personal money in”, with the $60 monthly subscription cost per terminal also paid out of pocket. Dzyga’s Paw is currently running a fundraiser for 100 more Starlink terminals.
Prior to the funding-related complaints, SpaceX had come under scrutiny for reports of Starlink outages or disruptions in territory retaken by Ukrainian forces during recent counteroffensives in the nation’s east and south. Ukrainian officials that spoke to the Financial Times were quoted that the end of such disruptions following an earlier report by the newspaper have raised the suspicion of them being SpaceX’s doing, rather than the result of Russian electronic warfare efforts.
Late on Tuesday, Musk reiterated his claims that Starlink was losing $20 million a month on services to Ukraine over unspecified “unpaid costs & costs related to enhanced security measures for cyberwar defense”. However, the world’s richest man acknowledged for the first time that private individuals, non-governmental organizations, and other governments were indeed paying for the costs of Starlink use in Ukraine.