Russia has issued a veiled threat of “retaliation” against SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet system for supporting Ukraine’s military
A Russian representative named Konstantin Vorontsov issued the warning at a meeting of the United Nations working group last week(Opens in a new window) on reducing space threats.
Vorontsov – who allegedly was(Opens in a new window) a former acting deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry – did not name SpaceX or Starlink. But he noted: “We wish to underscore an extremely dangerous trend, beyond the benign use of space technologies, which has become evident during the events in Ukraine. Namely, the use by the United States and its allies of elements of civilian, including commercial, infrastructure in space for military purposes,” reads the unofficial translation(Opens in a new window) his statement. (The original Russian-language explanation can be found here(Opens in a new window).)
Vorontsov then uttered his veiled threat: “It seems that our colleagues do not realize that such actions actually constitute indirect involvement in military conflicts. Quasi-civilian infrastructure can become a legitimate target for retaliation.”
A map of Starlink satellites in orbit. (Image credit: satellitemap.space)
“At the very least, this provocative use of civilian satellites is questionable under the Outer Space Treaty(Opens in a new window)which envisages the exclusively peaceful uses of outer space, and must be strongly condemned by the international community,” he added.
The statement from Russia seems to have caught the attention of SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. On Friday he has tweeted(Opens in a new window) out: “Starlink is intended for peaceful use only.”
SpaceX has shipped over 12,000 Starlink dishes to Ukraine to keep the country online during its war with Russia. The system provides high-speed broadband coverage to many civilian areas across the country, including hospitals, homes and businesses. However, it is no secret that the Ukrainian military was also used(Opens in a new window) Starlink to send encrypted messages and control drones(Opens in a new window) which Russian forces can attack.
“I want to say one thing: Elon Musk’s Starlink turned the war in Ukraine’s favour,” said a Ukrainian soldier said(Opens in a new window) Journalist David Patrikarakos back in April.
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How serious Russia is about the attack on Starlink remains unclear. But in November, the Kremlin tested an anti-satellite missile that destroyed one of the country’s defunct satellites. The impact resulted in thousands of pieces of debris in Earth orbit, posing a hazard to everything in its path. In response, the US condemned Russia for the missile test, saying the country is endangering space for everyone. Since then, SpaceX’s own Starlink satellites have had to dodge the debris field numerous times.
It’s also possible that the Kremlin tried to hack Starlink. The US and its allies have already accused the Russian government of launching a cyberattack in February that temporarily shut down internet services from rival satellite provider Viasat.
Russia’s ally China also has concerns about Starlink. Back in April, a group of Chinese researchers linked to the country’s defense industry called on China to develop ways to disrupt and destroy Starlink.
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