“Ukrainians have leveraged it in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement,” Shotwell said. “We know the military is using them for [communications], and that’s okay … but our intent was never to have them use it for offensive purposes.”
She referred to reports that the Ukrainian military has used the Starlink service to control drones, and she spoke obliquely of “things that we can do to limit their ability to do that.” It is not clear how Starlink would prevent the service from being used for drones, and Shotwell did not provide details. “There are things that we can do, and have done,” she told reporters.
Ukraine’s government and military have yet to comment directly on the matter.
However, Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko tweeted Thursday that his country felt “gratitude” to Starlink at the onset of the war and credited it with having “saved hundreds of thousands of lives.”
“Ukraine doesn’t offense, we liberate,” he wrote. “No neutrality in fight of good and evil.”
Ukraine’s military has increasingly come to rely on unmanned aerial weapons such as drones in its almost year-long war with Russia. It has also relied on Starlink’s services amid internet outages and damage to infrastructure, as well as Russian cyberattacks and for broader humanitarian needs.
Late last year, Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, caused a stir when he threatened to pull funding for Starlink in Ukraine, saying that it was “unreasonable” to keep funding “the existing system indefinitely.” He later reversed his position.
Starlink has largely kept Ukraine and its military online during the war, causing Russia to attempt to jam signals and phone services in combat zones. One Ukrainian commander previously told The Washington Post that “fighting without Starlink service at the front line is like fighting without a gun.”
Any satellite cutoff could cripple Ukraine’s military and hand a major advantage to the Kremlin.
While SpaceX at points has portrayed Starlink service in Ukraine as a charitable venture, it has not, in fact, covered the entire cost. The Post reported in April that the U.S. government paid millions to SpaceX for equipment and transportation costs.
Last month, Musk wrote on Twitter, the social media platform he also owns: “SpaceX Starlink has become the connectivity backbone of Ukraine all the way up to the front lines. … However, we are not allowing Starlink to be used for long-range drone strikes.”
Starlink provides high-speed, low-latency broadband by relying on a constellation of thousands of highly advanced satellites operating in a low orbit around the Earth.
Christian Davenport contributed to this report.