Starlink terminals are reportedly being used by Russian forces in Ukraine

There’s a thriving black market for the satellite-based internet providers.

ODD ANDERSEN via Getty Images

Starlink satellite internet terminals are being widely used by Russian forces in Ukraine, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal. The publication indicates that the terminals, which were developed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, are being used to coordinate attacks in eastern Ukraine and Crimea. Additionally, Starlink terminals can be used on the battlefield to control drones and other forms of military tech.

The terminals are reaching Russian forces via a complex network of black market sellers. This is despite the fact that Starlink devices are banned in the country. WSJ followed some of these sellers as they smuggled the terminals into Russia and even made sure deliveries got to the front lines. Reporting also indicates that some of the terminals were originally purchased on eBay.

This black market for Starlink terminals allegedly stretches beyond occupied Ukraine and into Sudan. Many of these Sudanese dealers are reselling units to the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary group that’s been accused of committing atrocities like ethnically motivated killings, targeted abuse of human rights activists, sexual violence and the burning of entire communities. WSJ notes that hundreds of terminals have found their way to members of the Rapid Support Forces.

Back in February, Elon Musk addressed earlier reports that Starlink terminals were being used by Russian soldiers in the war against Ukraine. “To the best of our knowledge, no Starlinks have been sold directly or indirectly to Russia,” he wrote on X. The Kremlin also denied the reports, according to Reuters. Despite these proclamations, WSJ says that “thousands of the white pizza-box-sized devices” have landed with “some American adversaries and accused war criminals.”

After those February reports, House Democrats have demanded that Musk take action, according to Business Insider, noting that Russian military use of the tech is “potentially in violation of US sanctions and export controls.” Starlink actually has the ability to disable individual terminals and each item includes geofencing technology that is supposed to prevent use in unauthorized countries, though it's unclear if black market sellers can get around these hurdles.

House Democrats have demanded that Musk take action. He took steps to limit Ukraine’s use of the technology on the grounds that the terminals were never intended for use in military conflicts. According to his biography, Musk also blocked Ukraine’s use of Starlink near Crimea early in the conflict, ending the country’s plans for an attack on Russia’s naval fleet. Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, wrote on X that “civilians, children are being killed” as a result of Musk’s decision. He further dinged the billionaire by writing “this is the price of a cocktail of ignorance and a big ego.”

However, Musk fired back and said that Starlink was never active in the area near Crimea, so there was nothing to disable. He also said that the policy in question was decided upon before Ukraine’s planned attack on the naval fleet. Ukraine did lose access to more than 1,300 Starlink terminals in the early days of the conflict due to a payment issue. SpaceX reportedly charged Ukraine $2,500 per month to keep each unit operational, which ballooned to $3.25 million per month. This pricing aligns with the company’s high cost premium plan. It’s worth noting that SpaceX has donated more than 3,600 terminals to Ukraine.

SpaceX has yet to comment on the WSJ report regarding the blackmarket proliferation of Starlink terminals. We’ll update this post when it does.

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