Elon Musk’s 15 minutes of fame

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk arrives on the red carpet for the Axel Springer media award in Berlin on Dec. 1, 2020. Musk suggested in a Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022, tweet that his rocket company SpaceX may continue to fund its satellite-based Starlink internet service in Ukraine. But Musk’s tone and wording also raised the possibility that the irascible Tesla CEO was just being sarcastic. Photo by Hannibal Hanschke/Pool Photo via AP, File.

On Oct. 15, a post from Twitter revealed that Elon Musk had, for a mere 15 minutes, been placed on the Ukrainian website “Myrotvorets.” Translated as “Peacemaker” in Ukraine, “Myrotvorets” is widely considered to be a Ukrainian hit list that targets Russian sympathizers and propagandists. Why was the richest man in the world found on this list? It most likely stems from a recent Twitter post from Musk himself.  

On Oct. 3, Elon Musk made a post in which he proposed a peace plan for the current Russo-Ukrainian War. Musk’s proposal called for a redoing of elections in regions annexed by Russia, an assured water supply to Crimea, Crimea to be handed over to Russia and for Ukraine to not join NATO. In a yes-no poll created by Musk, 60% of people voted against the plan, and the tweet itself provoked enormous criticism, including from Ukraine diplomat Andriy Melnyk, who had some choice words on the matter. From the Ukrainian perspective, this proposal was by no means a solution to peace, but rather capitulation, or in other words surrender. Despite how ill-received the proposal was, however, it did have some merit.  

The first point, which is very reasonable, refers to the Russia operated referendums held in the Donbas region of Ukraine in 2014. These referendums allowed the people of the region to vote for or against joining Russia, and although most votes were for joining, the referendums themselves were not run according to democratic standards. Nevertheless, Russia used this as a means for invading the Donbas region, believing they were securing a region that merely wanted to be a part of Russia. Musk believes the referendums should therefore be redone under United Nation supervision in order to determine if this is truly what the people of Donbas want. Musk’s second point, which is also reasonable, refers to the water situation in Crimea. Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Ukraine retaliated by blocking the North Crimean Canal. Restoring the water was a major goal of the Russian invasion, but who’s to stop Ukraine from doing it again in the future? Hence, Musk proposed the water be allowed to keep flowing.

A man pushing a stroller walks past a building damaged by fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces in Borodyanka, Kyiv region, Ukraine, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022. Airstrikes cut power and water supplies to hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians on Tuesday, part of what the country’s president called an expanding Russian campaign to drive the nation into the cold and dark and make peace talks impossible. Photo by Emilio Morenatti/AP Photo.

The last two points, which seem to be the ultimate cause for uproar, call for Ukraine to give up Crimea and to not join NATO. These points prove to be especially infuriating because for many years, Ukraine has considered Crimea to be part of its nation. In terms of neutrality, not joining NATO is out of the question for Ukraine, considering they have been trying to join since 1997. Another of Russia’s justifications for invading Ukraine is due to the expansion of NATO. If Ukraine was to not join the organization, Russia, no longer feeling threatened by its growth, would be more likely to withdraw from war. With all this said, Musk most likely knew his post wasn’t going to be well received. So why did he post it? Two reasons: finance and morality.  

StarLink is a program established by SpaceX beginning in 2020 that provides satellite internet to nearly half a million people and 32 countries. One of these countries is Ukraine. Not only does StarLink provide Ukrainian citizens with access to the internet, but it also facilitates the communication between their military forces. It is an essential piece to the Ukrainian war effort, but it is costly, and Ukraine isn’t paying the bill. According to Elon Musk, SpaceX is providing Ukraine with the StarLink program at their own expense, with the total operation costing SpaceX $80 million to set up and currently costing the company $20 million per month to maintain. Despite what might seem as an inevitable cutoff of the program, Musk has claimed to continue to provide Ukraine with StarLink for free. The situation, however, is more complicated than it seems, and Musk had many things to consider before he made this decision.  

It is essentially a catch-22 for Elon Musk and SpaceX. On one hand, if SpaceX cuts the program, the company’s reputation, and most likely Musk’s, will take a nosedive. The tide of war could quickly change should Ukraine lose access to StarLink, and SpaceX could end up being the one to blame should they be defeated. On the other hand, if the program is kept running, not only does the company lose millions, but, more importantly, lives are lost. As of September, there are reports of over 14,000 civilian casualties as the result of the war, 5,000 of which are deaths. The more resources Ukraine has, including billions of dollars in aid from the US, weapons from allied countries and StarLink itself, the more willing they are to fight. As the war is prolonged, its tolls become greater. The only real solution is to end it as fast as possible. With that said, despite how unappealing the terms of Musk’s proposal may seem, it is a step toward ending the war, something the world needs to take more of.  

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