Ukrainian soldiers say Russia’s military have begun using Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite communications network in Ukraine, according to a journalist in the country.
“The military writes that the occupiers have Starlink with licensed accounts,” Andriy Tsaplienko, a Ukrainian journalist, said on his Telegram channel.
“They began to deliver Starlink en masse, via Dubai, accounts are activated, they work in the occupied territories,” one of the soldiers with the X handle @_Serhij_ wrote, referring to the four regions of Ukraine that were illegally annexed by Russia in the fall of 2022—Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
Another X user, @cpt_mitchell, said Ukrainian soldiers “can already see their Starlinks,” adding: “I honestly thought they would do it sooner.”
Starlink is operated by Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX.
Russian news outlets also report that Starlink satellite communications systems are now being sold via multiple Russian online stores, supplied via an intermediary in Dubai. The systems are being sold to the Russian volunteer units for use in the annexed regions of Ukraine, according to the local publications.
Musk‘s SpaceX deployed its Starlink satellites to help provide Kyiv with internet service in the early days of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Musk has said that the satellite-internet system provides Ukraine with a “major battlefield advantage.”
In June 2023, Starlink obtained a Department of Defense contract to buy those satellite services for Ukraine. Musk’s company has so far privately funded a network of nearly 4,000 satellites to be launched into low-Earth orbit. Kyiv’s troops use it for battlefield communications in the war with Russia.
While the Starlink network doesn’t work in Russia, it is now able to be used in the four annexed regions and in Crimea, which Putin annexed from Ukraine in 2014, Russian news outlet ComNews reported.
“Merchants do not hide the fact that Starlink kits are addressed to participants [of the war] and are bought up by them in large quantities,” the publication reported.
The news outlet cited Russian volunteers in the war, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. They said that there are many Starlink kits being used by the Moscow’s troops on the battlefield in Ukraine.
“The reasons for use are convenience, mobility and security,” one volunteer said.
A source in the satellite communications market, familiar with the situation, told ComNews that Starlink systems are being delivered in bulk to Russia, and named Dubai as the location for the wholesale purchase of the equipment.
“Before being imported into Russia, terminals are registered under various foreign companies (Cyprus is often included), after which an account is activated under any name, often a fictitious one,” the source said.
The manager of one company supplying equipment for military needs emphasized that regular units under the Russian Armed Forces are banned from using Starlink equipment, and said they are used only by volunteer units.
“If this rumor is true, supplying Starlink via intermediary in Dubai should be considered a breach of sanctions against Russia. This also raises the question if Starlink is available for the Russians in the front?” asked Pekka Kallioniemi, a postdoctoral researcher at Tampere University in Finland, in a post on X.
Musk previously refused to allow Ukraine to use Starlink internet services to launch an attack on Crimea to avoid complicity in a “major act of war.”
“There was an emergency request from government authorities to activate Starlink all the way to Sevastopol,” he wrote in early September 2023 on X.
“The obvious intent being to sink most of the Russian fleet at anchor. If I had agreed to their request, then SpaceX would be explicitly complicit in a major act of war and conflict escalation.”