He’s an egomaniacal man-child, but is Elon Musk really the Dark Lord? Twitter seems to think so.

Oh, wait a minute. It was Twitter before Elon Musk bought it and ruined it. Now it’s X, an app that does everything to please no one, that most users hate but use anyway. But that’s not even the worst scandal.

Musk’s latest offense is his decision to cut Starlink communications services to Ukrainian forces as they attempted a massive drone attack on Russian ships in the Black Sea near the occupied Crimean peninsula. This happened a year ago, but it’s only now coming to light because historian Walter Isaacson uncovered the incident while researching his new book about Musk, due out September 12th.

Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, Musk’s company SpaceX gave Ukraine hundreds of Starlink terminals, giving troops on the ground much-needed internet access to support battlefield communications and repel Russian invaders. SpaceX covered the costs, which Musk estimated at $80 million. Ukrainian commanders praised Musk and said it was difficult to operate without Starlink.

By last September, Ukraine had managed to push back Russian forces and build some offensive momentum. One move was to send half a dozen naval drones loaded with explosives toward Russian ships in the Black Sea. These drones needed Starlink to navigate to their targets. Musk learned of the effort and urged SpaceX engineers to deny Starlink coverage in that part of Crimea. According to a report published by Isaacson in the Washington Post on September 7, the drones were unable to navigate and washed harmlessly ashore.

musk confirmed Isaacson’s storyIt said: “There has been an urgent request from government authorities to activate Starlink as far as Sevastopol. The apparent intention was to sink most of the Russian fleet at anchor.” He did not say which government agencies or which country made the request. He rejected the request because “SpaceX would explicitly be involved in a major act of war and escalation of conflict.”

The story goes on

Because he was essentially protecting Russia’s military capability, Musk’s critics accused him of colluding with the barbaric Russians in their war against a European democracy. Anders Ostlund of the Center for European Policy Analysis blamed Musk and SpaceX escalate the war – on the Russian side – and contributed to the deaths of Ukrainian civilians. Historian Ian Garner called Musk a “Villain with maximum Bond level.” A Pro-Ukraine Twitter account With 67,000 followers, he called Musk “a clever agent of the Russian Federation.”

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But many of Musk’s critics should be aware of a major omission: private companies and their executives should not be the ones deciding how to help a U.S. ally in wartime. The Ukrainian armed forces use equipment from virtually all major U.S. defense companies, but the CEOs of Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, Navistar, etc. do not personally make these decisions. Instead, these contractors sell devices to the U.S. government, which then decides what to do with them.

SpaceX is a government contractor through agreements with NASA that date back to 2014. But that applies to commercial spaceflight, not defense. Apparently, at the beginning of the Ukraine war, SpaceX did not have a contract with the Pentagon for its Starlink satellites, which is why Musk voluntarily provided this Starlink equipment to Ukraine.

More important in his own mind? Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla and owner of X, last June. (Gonzalo Fuentes/REUTERS)

In April 2022, the US Agency for Intl. Development said it delivered 5,000 Starlink terminals to Ukraine as part of a “public-private partnership” with Ukraine. However, the conditions were not clearly stated. In June this year, the Pentagon issued a terse statement saying it had finally reached a deal with SpaceX to provide Starlink satellite service to Ukraine. It was not said when this contract began. It is also possible, and perhaps likely, that the CIA or another intelligence agency ensured that Ukraine had uninterrupted Starlink service, as it is critical to basic military functionality on the battlefield.

It is therefore questionable that Musk was able to unilaterally stop the Starlink service near Crimea last September. If SpaceX was still providing Starlink services to Ukraine on its own seven months after the war began, and Musk had sole authority over whether to turn it on or off, then that is a huge mistake made by the Biden administration and is not Musk’s responsibility. That would be like the CEO of General Dynamics deciding whether to deliver Abrams tanks to Ukraine, rather than the president, secretary of state, and all other government decision-makers.

It is possible that SpaceX had a contract with the Pentagon and Musk still made the decision to shut down service near Crimea, possibly in violation of the contract. Musk seems to believe that world peace depends on him, and Isaacson says the impressionable Musk was swayed by a conversation he had with the Russian ambassador to the United States, who told Musk that an attack on Russia’s controlled Crimea would provoke a nuclear response from Russia.

This is obviously false, considering that Ukraine has attacked Crimea many times and also sunk a Russian missile cruiser in the Black Sea without causing a nuclear response. Apparently Musk naively believed that the Russians were telling the truth. Biden’s more experienced national security team might have been more skeptical of the Russian ambassador’s threat. In any case, if the CEO of a defense contractor unilaterally prevents the U.S. government from using a contracted product or service at its discretion, it is up to the customer – the U.S. government – to correct the situation.

Elon Musk is an important innovator, and in his own eyes he is even more important. He is irritating and even worse when, for example, he misleads investors, advocates quackery and bullies critics. But he is only above reproach if everyone who has to do with him allows it. Many things are bigger and more important than Elon Musk, including the war in Ukraine.

Rick Newman is a senior columnist for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @rickjnewman.

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