Sen. Warren Presses Pentagon to Address Claims Russian Forces Are Using Musk’s Starlink in Ukraine

Sen. Warren Presses Pentagon to Address Claims Russian Forces Are Using Musk’s Starlink in Ukraine
(Left) Tesla CEO Elon Musk looks up as he addresses guests at the Offshore Northern Seas 2022 (ONS) meeting in Stavanger, Norway, on Aug. 29, 2022. (Right) Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speaks to a staff member before the start of a Senate Banking Committee hearing on oversight of credit reporting agencies on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 27, 2023. (Carina Johansen/NTB/AFP via Getty Images; Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Ryan Morgan

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is calling for the Department of Defense to investigate allegations Russian forces have obtained and begun to use the Starlink satellite internet service in Ukraine.

Billionaire entrepreneur and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk initially rolled out the Starlink service in Ukraine in the spring of 2022 to assist the Ukrainian government and military components fighting against Russian invasion forces in the country. In recent months, however, reports have indicated Starlink internet service terminals have ended up in the hands of Russian forces on the other side of the conflict.

Ukraine’s Main Directorate of Intelligence (GUR) first raised concerns about Russian forces using the Starlink service on Feb. 11. The GUR said at the time that Ukrainian intelligence officials had intercepted radio transmissions in which Russian soldiers described acquiring terminals for the satellite internet service through third-party dealers in Arab countries, such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Mr. Musk has denied the allegations, stating, “To the best of our knowledge, no Starlinks have been sold directly or indirectly to Russia.” SpaceX has also insisted it does not provide services in Russia or sales through the UAE, and will investigate claims and deactivate Starlink terminals when allegations arise that they’re being misused.

Despite Mr. Musk’s denials, House Oversight Committee Ranking Member Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) sent a letter to SpaceX Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell, calling on her to address the claims regarding Starlink more directly.

Now, Ms. Warren has taken scrutiny of Starlink a step further, asking Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in a Monday letter to order the DoD to investigate the matter. Ms. Warren cited an April 9 report published by the Wall Street Journal, alleging a “shadowy supply chain” of Starlink equipment running through Africa, Southeast Asia, and the United Arab Emirates. The report alleges Starlink terminals have made their way not only to Russian troops in Ukraine but to the Rapid Support Forces, a rebel faction in Sudan that the U.S. government has accused of committing war crimes.

“This ongoing evasion of US sanctions and export controls has ‘eroded a battlefield advantage once enjoyed by Ukrainian forces,’” Ms. Warren said, citing the Wall Street Journal article. “DoD must act to ensure that DoD contractors are held accountable for any expropriation of their technology by hostile actors so we may adequately support and arm our allies in their fight against Russia’s illegal invasion.”

Ms. Warren noted the DoD currently has a $23 million contract with SpaceX to provide Starlink services to Ukraine.

Pentagon ‘Throwing Up Their Hands’ Dealing With SpaceX: Warren

In her letter, Ms. Warren alleged the DoD has thus far shown undue deference to Mr. Musk and SpaceX in addressing the claims Starlink systems are being misused.

The Massachusetts senator noted Mr. Musk had proposed a peace deal in the Ukraine conflict in October 2022 that “was not consistent with U.S. foreign policy goals.” Despite differing policy views on the war in Ukraine, the DoD contract for Starlink services in Ukraine has continued.

“DoD officials also appear to be throwing up their hands when it comes to reining in the national security threat posed by the sale and use of Starlink devices on the black market,” Ms. Warren’s letter states.

Ms. Warren also noted a comment U.S. Assistant Secretary for Space Policy John Plumb made at the 2024 Space Symposium in April, in which he said, “I don’t think that DoD is in a position to make them [SpaceX] do these things, so I'll just say that…[its] something we just have to bake in and understand.”

The Democrat Senator called Mr. Plumb’s comments troubling.

“DoD officials also appear to be throwing up their hands when it comes to reining in the national security threat posed by the sale and use of Starlink devices on the black market,” she said.

Ms. Warren called on Mr. Austin to reveal how many allegations of sanctions violations the DoD, U.S. Treasury Department, or other Biden administration officials have investigated involving Starlink. She also asked the DoD to identify what tools it’s aware of for restricting Starlink’s use near the frontlines or in Russian-held areas of Ukraine and whether it’s aware of any instances of SpaceX deactivating a Starlink terminal it determined was being misused in Ukraine. She called for the DoD to provide responsive records by June 5.

NTD News reached out to SpaceX for comment on Ms. Warren’s letter but did not receive a response by press time.

Mr. Musk and SpaceX have become a recurring focus of Ms. Warren’s congressional oversight efforts.

In September, Ms. Warren called for a DoD probe into allegations Mr. Musk thwarted a Ukrainian attack on the Russian-controlled Crimean Peninsula by blocking Starlink services in that area. Those claims surfaced in a biography of Mr. Musk written by Walter Isaacson. The author later modified his portrayal of the incident, indicating Starlink services were never active around Crimea.

“When the Ukrainian military learned that Starlink would not allow a successful attack, Musk got frantic calls and texts asking him to turn the coverage on … Musk replied that the design of the drones was impressive, but he refused to turn on the coverage for Crimea, arguing that Ukraine ‘is now going too far and inviting strategic defeat,'” Mr. Isaacson wrote in an addendum to an excerpt of his book he published in the Washington Post.

In December 2022, Ms. Warren also wrote to the board of directors of one of Mr. Musk’s other companies, Tesla, regarding his acquisition of a third company, the Twitter social media platform. Ms. Warren raised concerns that the billionaire’s acquisition of Twitter detracted from his leadership and fiduciary duties to Tesla and its shareholders.