Despite a hiccup last month, Ukraine still has faith in Elon Musk to keep delivering internet connectivity through his SpaceX rocket company’s Starlink satellite system, but it is also looking for other suppliers, one of its deputy prime ministers said on Thursday.
Mykhailo Fedorov, who is in Portugal for the Lisbon Web Summit, the biggest internet conference in Europe, claimed that Ukraine had spoken with Musk directly about Starlink and was convinced that the CEO of Tesla and Twitter would not halt the service there.
Starlink has “worked, is working and will definitely work in Ukraine”, Federov, who runs Ukraine’s digital transformation ministry, told a news conference.
“Elon Musk publicly spoke about this and we had a conversation with him about it, so we do not see a problem in this regard,” Fedorov said.
After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, SpaceX turned on Starlink and has since given Kyiv hundreds of terminals, enabling Ukrainians to access the internet in locations where the domestic telecoms network isn’t available. Both citizens and the Ukrainian military use the networks.
Musk said in a tweet last month that SpaceX could no longer afford to provide the service to Ukraine forever, but he then changed his mind and said he would still do so as an example of “good deeds.”
In the same period, some Ukrainians near the front lines reported internet service failures, while Musk enraged Ukrainian authorities by advocating a peace plan in which Ukraine would yield some territory to Russia.
According to Fedorov, the 40% destruction of Ukraine’s electricity infrastructure by Russian attacks in October heightened the need of keeping communications networks operational.
“One of the reasons why I came to the Web Summit is also to look for new partners and continue to develop and engage with new partners,” he said.
“Communication is really crucial,” he said. “We are working on this issue 24 hours a day. Russia is hitting energy infrastructures and sometimes we don’t have light at home for eight hours.”
At a joint press conference, Fedorov and Microsoft President Brad Smith pledged an additional $100 million in technology support for Ukraine through 2023.
“This will enable the government and other organisations in Ukraine to continue to run their services and serve Ukraine citizens through the Microsft Cloud and our public data centres spread across Europe,” Smith said.