A high-ranking Kremlin official has warned that commercial satellites assisting Ukrainian forces could be viewed as legitimate military targets by Moscow. Since Russia destroyed Ukraine’s communications infrastructure early in the war, Elon Musk’s SpaceX has provided Kiev with internet service through its Starlink network.
Speaking during a UN General Assembly meeting on Wednesday, Konstantin Vorontsov, deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s nonproliferation and arms control department, said that some privately owned satellites could qualify as military assets given their significant role in the war.
“I would like to draw special attention to the extremely dangerous tendency, which has surfaced in the course of the developments in Ukraine. I mean the use of outer space civil infrastructure facilities, including commercial ones, in armed conflicts by the United States and its allies,” the official said, adding “Quasi-civil infrastructure may be a legitimate target for a retaliation strike. The West’s actions unreasonably jeopardize the stability of the civil space activities and numerous socio-economic processes on the ground, which determine people’s wellbeing, first of all in developing countries.”
While Vorontsov did not single out any company by name, SpaceX has provided Ukraine’s military with crucial communication capabilities throughout the conflict. Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak recently praised SpaceX’s efforts, saying “Like it or not, [Starlink] helped us survive the most critical moments of war.”
Mykhailo Fedorov, vice prime minister of Ukraine, has also hailed the Starlink network for its ability to withstand Russian attacks. “Over 100 cruise missiles attacked [Ukrainian] energy and communications infrastructure. But with Starlink we quickly restored the connection in critical areas. Starlink continues to be an essential part of critical infrastructure,” he said in a tweet earlier this month.
Addressing Vorontsov’s comments on Thursday, US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that any strikes on American satellites would be “met with an appropriate response in an appropriate way,” vowing to “hold Russia accountable for any such attack, should it occur.”
SpaceX has provided its technology to the Ukrainian government at its own expense, and while Musk recently urged the Pentagon to begin covering the bill, he has since dropped that request and says his company will continue to offer Starlink’s services free of cost. The entrepreneur has claimed that SpaceX will spend hundreds of millions to maintain internet connection for Ukraine’s military through the rest of the year, noting that costs have increasingly grown as the system is hit with cyberattacks.