Fact Check: Did Kremlin Threaten to Destroy Starlink Satellites?

A comment in a Russian diplomatic note has caused a stir on social media, with some observers claiming it amounts to a potential threat against U.S. Starlink satellites.

The Claim

Since September 15, multiple Twitter users have suggested that Russia has issued a veiled threat to Elon Musk's Starlink satellites following a meeting of the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) three days prior.

Defense journalist Shashank Joshi retweeted an excerpt from an English translation of a statement by the Russian delegation to the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA).

Starlink dish and a Ukrainian soldier
Left: A stock photo shows a Starlink satellite dish on top of a home. Right: A photo shows a Ukrainian soldier in February, 2015, in Soledar, Ukraine. Starlink has been used to assist Ukraine amid the invasion by Russian forces. Scott Peterson/JL Images/Getty

"Interesting statement from Russia on satellite use: 'Quasi-civilian infrastructure may become a legitimate target for retaliation'," Joshi wrote. "It's clear that Starlink has become an important part of Ukraine's command, control and communication system in parts of the country."

Another Twitter user wrote that "Starlink is absolutely a military target now," referring to Russia's UNODA statement.

Sharing Joshi's tweet to the r/space subreddit in a post that had 11,000 upvotes at the time of writing, a redditor wrote: "The Kremlin is threatening to destroy Starlink satellites."

The Facts

Russia's statement at the September 12 UNODA meeting, and its unofficial English language translation, can be found on the United Nations website.

The English language translation does include the following quote: "We would like to underline an extremely dangerous trend that goes beyond the harmless use of outer space technologies and has become apparent during the events in Ukraine. Namely, the use by the United States and its allies of the elements of civilian, including commercial, infrastructure in outer space for military purposes.

"It seems like our colleagues do not realize that such actions in fact constitute indirect involvement in military conflicts. Quasi-civilian infrastructure may become a legitimate target for retaliation."

While Russia does not refer to Starlink by name in this paragraph, it is known that Starlink—the satellite communications network operated by Elon Musk's U.S. rocket company SpaceX—has been used in Ukraine to provide support both to civilians for internet access, and to the military for communications purposes.

Starlink has proved to be what Politico described as an "unexpected lifeline" for the country amid Russian efforts to install its own ISPs and cut Ukraine off from the outside world. It has also reportedly been used to aid in air strikes on Russian positions.

Additionally, back in May the former head of Russia's space agency, Dmitry Rogozin, accused Elon Musk of being "involved in the supply of fascist forces in Ukraine with military communications," and warned, via Twitter, that "for this you will have to answer in an adult way, Elon, no matter how you play the fool."

According to Musk, Russia has already attempted to harm the Starlink network. In May he tweeted: "Starlink has resisted Russian cyberwar jamming & hacking attempts so far, but they're ramping up their efforts."

It is possible to see why Russia might consider Starlink to be "quasi-civilian infrastructure" involved in the military conflict in Ukraine and that it would be a target for retaliation, but the UNODA statement is not necessarily a direct threat and doesn't refer to Starlink by name.

The Ruling

Needs Context

Needs Context.

While Russia's UNODA statement could be taken as a potential threat of future military action against Starlink, it was not the main part of the Russian statement. It did not present a direct threat or specifically reference Starlink, but rather represents a throwaway paragraph in a diplomatic document.