To connect to the Internet anywhere in the world, even in the most isolated areas, a small and simple satellite dish measuring 51.3 by 30.3 centimeters, a tripod and a router are enough. The equipment costs 390 euros and the monthly subscription, 70. The service is offered by the Starlink company, of the North American billionaire Elon Musk, which uses a swarm of 2,400 satellites (there will end up being 12,000) placed in orbit by the parent company SpaceX, the main private space company on the planet, in order to universalize the internet connection.
One of the keys to Ukraine’s military success against the Russian invasion is precisely this technology, which has made it possible to guarantee communications between the general staff and the different units of the Ukrainian army at all times and in all circumstances. Musk’s personal decision to provide the Kyiv government with 25,300 Starlink terminals – more sophisticated than those intended for the general public – and to provide the satellite connection service has ended up determining the development of the war.
That aid of this caliber depends on a private company and, ultimately, on the decision of a single person, who answers to no one but himself, already raises important questions about its legitimacy. But it also makes it enormously fragile. Two recent episodes illustrate just how volatile Musk’s intervention in Ukraine can be.
The successes of the Ukrainian army have been possible thanks to the Starlink satellite network
The first of them dates from last month, although it has now become known thanks to information from CNN: the company SpaceX sent a letter to the Pentagon in September in which it urged the United States Department of Defense to assume the cost of the service. Starlink in Ukraine (120 million dollars until the end of the year and 400 million more for all of 2023, which would include the delivery of 8,000 more terminals requested by the Ukrainian army). SpaceX argued that the company could not continue assuming this economic effort (which, on the other hand, it has not done alone, since the North American and Polish governments have also borne part of the expenses)
After the matter was uncovered, Musk withdrew the request, although the problem could arise again at any time. In anticipation of this, Washington and Brussels study assuming the cost of the Satrlink servicebefore endangering the connections of the Ukrainian army.
At the same time, the boss of SpaceX launched to propose through Twitter a peace plan for Ukraine that – to Kyiv’s horror – proposed recognizing Russian sovereignty over the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Moscow in 2014, and holding referendums monitored by the UN in the Russian-occupied areas in the east and south of the country to determine whether their inhabitants want to join Russia or remain in Ukraine.
According to the political scientist Ian Bremmer, from the Eurasia Group, Musk explained to him that he had spoken personally shortly before with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, who would have explained to him what his red lines were. Musk denied having had this conversation, but he did justify his initiative by fear of an escalation that leads to a nuclear conflict. The tycoon’s intervention not only irritated the Ukrainian government, but also raised a political controversy in the US and Europe.
The boss of Tesla and SpaceX has proposed solutions for the future of Ukraine and Taiwan
Increasingly interested in global geopolitical problems – how could an individual trying to save humanity by colonizing Mars not be? – Musk also dared to propose a solution to the Taiwan conflict, over which China claims its sovereignty but which in practice functions as an independent territory. In an interview with the Financial Times , the billionaire proposed seeking an agreement on the basis that Beijing maintained some control over the island. Which was harshly rejected by the Taipei authorities.
The personalist activism of Elon Musk could be curious, if it were not disturbing. Because at 51 years of age, the North American businessman is not a outsider Anyone: Not only is he the richest man in the world (with an estimated fortune of $219 billion), but the big tech companies he controls and the ones he’s about to control give him immense power.
Musk’s corporate galaxy today comprises Tesla Motors (electric cars and batteries, as well as a prototype humanoid robot, the Optimus), SolarCity (solar energy), The Boring Company (transportation infrastructure), OpeanAI (artificial intelligence), Neuralink ( development of brain-computer interfaces) and SpaceX, which in addition to managing the Starlink satellite network has fundamentally developed the rockets and spacecraft that NASA now uses to send astronauts to the International Space Station and for the future manned mission to the Moon scheduled for 2025.
To this entire industrial complex, Musk intends to soon add the social network twitter (for 44,000 million dollars), of which he himself is a very active user and where he has 109 million followers. The tycoon has already warned that his intention is to guarantee “absolute freedom of expression” on the network, which will probably include the currently vetoed Donald Trump… Intelligent, brilliant, with an extraordinary capacity for work, there are those who see in Elon Musk to a genius But he is also a deified and eccentric man who barely conceals his messianism. A megalomaniac for whom intervention in world affairs seems irresistible. And dangerous.
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The disturbing Mr. Musk, by Lluís Uría