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Russia Threatens Starlink Satellites

Space and Politics: Vacuum and Vacuity

Konstantin Vorontsov of the Russian Foreign Ministry has made clear to a United Nations forum that Moscow reserves the right to disable or destroy commercial satellites providing internet access to Ukraine. “Quasi-civilian infrastructure may become a legitimate target for retaliation,” Vorontsov asserted, adding: “Such actions in fact constitute indirect participation in military conflicts.”

Mr. Vorontsov’s comments followed a failed American attempt to enact a ban on the testing of anti-satellite weapons. The U.S. initiative was dismissed by a seven-member bloc of nations led by Russia and China, the representatives of which argued that such a measure fell woefully short of guaranteeing international outer-space activities remained exclusively peaceful. “At the very least, this provocative use of civilian satellites is questionable under the Outer Space Treaty, which only provides for the peaceful use of outer space,” Vorontsov insisted.

Moscow’s and Beijing’s collective ire is heaped primarily upon SpaceX founder Elon Musk, whose Starlink internet constellation has provided the government, military, and people of Ukraine digital communication and data infrastructure since the early days of the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian conflict.

From the outset of Moscow’s campaign to overthrow Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, invading Russian forces have targeted Ukrainian internet services. The attempts failed, however, in part because Musk made his Starlink network available to Ukraine. The consequent superiority of Ukraine’s digital communications aided Zelensky’s forces in repelling the Russian assault, and facilitated the launch of numerous counter-offensives by which Russian-occupied Ukrainian territories were reclaimed.

The display of technological prowess and the besting of Bolshevik brawn by Musk’s cavalier South African/Canadian/American smarts alarmed officials in Moscow and Beijing, and prompted a publication of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army to declare: “The Starlink project has decided to increase the planned 12,000 satellites to 42,000, underscoring that it is widely distributed, flexible, and could be reconfigured quickly.”

Chinese scientists are reportedly toying with the notion of detonating a nuclear weapon in space for purpose of creating a radioactive debris cloud ostensibly capable of causing failures of, damage to, or even the outright destruction of spacecraft—such as satellites—moving through it. A similarly ominous conceit has been exhorted by Russian propaganda outlets.

Vorontsov—not to be outdone by his nation’s infamous state media—fleshed-out his address to the U.N. forum with contentions that private-sector endeavors to maintain internet access in Ukraine merit strong condemnation by the international community. “Western actions needlessly put at risk the sustainability of peaceful space activities, as well as numerous social and economic processes on Earth that affect the well-being of people.” Vorontsov averred—connotatively excluding the people of Ukraine from humanity’s fold.



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