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Russia can reportedly jam Ukraine’s access to Starlink at will

Russia has reportedly found new, more effective ways to knock out Ukraine’s Starlink service. The New York Times said on Friday that the increased interference has disrupted communications at critical moments and is posing “a major threat to Ukraine,” putting the country further on its heels more than two years into the war. How Russia is jamming Elon Musk’s satellite internet terminals is unclear.

The New York Times said Russia’s ability to jam communications has thrown off Ukraine’s ability to communicate, gather intelligence and conduct drone strikes. Ukrainian soldiers told the paper that jammed Starlink service stunts their ability to communicate quickly, leaving them scrambling to send text messages (often extremely slowly) to share intel about incoming or ongoing Russian maneuvers or attacks.

The jamming was reportedly repeated across Ukraine’s northern front line, often coinciding with Russian advances. The new outages are the first time Russia has jammed Starlink reception that widely and frequently. If it continues, it could “mark a tactical shift in the conflict,” highlighting Ukraine’s dependence on SpaceX’s internet technology. Without competing choices of similar quality, Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s democratic nation is left without many options that could work at the scale Ukraine needs.

Russia has tried to disrupt Ukraine’s comms since the war began, but Starlink service has reportedly held up well in the face of them. Something has changed. Ukraine’s digital minister, Mykhailo Federov, told The New York Times this week that Russia’s recent jamming appeared to use “new and more advanced technology.”

Federov told The NYT that Vladimir Putin’s army is now “testing different mechanisms to disrupt the quality of Starlink connections because it’s so important for us.” The digital minister didn’t specify the exact weapons Russia has been using, but a Russian official in charge of the country’s electronic warfare told state media last month that its military put Starlink on a “list of targets” and that it had developed ways to disrupt the service.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (Armed Forces of Ukraine)

The disruptions highlight the power that one mercurial billionaire can have over the pivotal Eastern European war. Ukrainian officials have reportedly “appealed directly to Mr. Musk to turn on Starlink access during military operations” ahead of crucial drone strikes, and he hasn’t always obliged.

The Wall Street Journal reported in February that concern has grown that Musk could harbor at least some degree of Russian sympathies. He has posted comments on X that could be viewed as taking a pro-Russian stance, and disinformation experts worry that the way he runs the social platform could be friendly to Russian interference in the pivotal 2024 elections, including those in the US.

Musk spoke out earlier this year against the US sending more aid to Ukraine. Putin’s army also reportedly began using its own Starlink service, although Musk says he wasn’t aware of the terminals being sold to the Slavic nation. Ukrainian officials raised concerns earlier this year that Russia was buying Starlink tech from third-party vendors.

However, the Pentagon said earlier this month that the US has been “heavily involved in working with the government of Ukraine and SpaceX to counter Russian illicit use of Starlink terminals,” and a departing space official described SpaceX as “a very reliable partner” in those operations.

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