It says it has intercepted conversations which indicate the Starlink terminals are being used to provide internet access to Russia’s 83rd Air Assault Brigade operating in the Donetsk region.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX company, which owns Starlink, says it does not do business of any kind with the Russian government or its military.
“If SpaceX obtains knowledge that a Starlink terminal is being used by a sanctioned or unauthorized party, we investigate the claim and take actions to deactivate the terminal if confirmed,” the company said in a statement.
Starlink, which uses a network of satellites to provide broadband, says its service will not work in Russia, although the statement didn’t address whether it would work in occupied Ukraine.
The service plays a crucial role in Ukrainian battlefield communications. Last year, Kyrylo Budanov, head of the Main Ukrainian Intelligence Directorate, said “absolutely all front lines are using them.”
Ukraine’s claim follows revelations about the satellite system’s use in the war made in a biography of Starlink’s owner Elon Musk, written by Walter Isaacson.
According to an excerpt from the book, Musk secretly ordered his engineers to turn off his company’s Starlink satellite communications network near the Crimean coast last year to disrupt a Ukrainian sneak attack on the Russian naval fleet.
As Ukrainian submarine drones strapped with explosives approached the Russian fleet, they “lost connectivity and washed ashore harmlessly,” Isaacson writes.
Musk’s decision, which left Ukrainian officials begging him to turn the satellites back on, was driven by an acute fear that Russia would respond to a Ukrainian attack on Crimea with nuclear weapons, a fear driven home by Musk’s conversations with senior Russian officials, according to Isaacson.