The tech mogul’s space-exploration company, SpaceX, has been providing internet to Ukraine for months via Starlink.
The country’s digital infrastructure was severely damaged by cyberattacks from Russia in the early stages of the invasion last February.
Internet access is fundamental to communication on the battlefield, so Kyiv quickly chose to set up a new system through SpaceX.
According to a new report in The New Yorker from journalist Ronan Farrow, Musk’s firm was seen as a safe option because Russia would have to attack a range of satellite dishes to dismantle it.
The trouble is, it also made Ukraine vulnerable to Musk’s moods, and he could turn the internet access off on a whim.
And then, around September last year, it seemed as though Musk was considering doing just that.
SpaceX told the Pentagon that the company was not in a position to “further donate terminals to Ukraine or fund the existing terminals for an indefinite period of time” last September.
The following month, SpaceX told the Pentagon it had to start paying Ukraine’s service bill, estimated to cost $400 million (£313 million) a year.
Musk’s personal net worth has been valued at $220 billion (£172 billion), with just SpaceX worth nearly $150 billion (£117.5 billion).
At the time of this back and forth, Ukraine was enduring intense and regular blackouts due to missile attacks from Russia.
Access to the internet is pivotal to the beleaguered country’s defence efforts, but Musk was reportedly “growing increasingly uneasy with the fact that his technology was being used for warfare”, according to The New Yorker.
Last September, he had even suggested negotiating with Vladimir Putin at a conference in Aspen, before he started tweeting out proposals for his own peace plan with new borders for a smaller Ukraine – and a larger Russia.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukraine’s president, angrily responded, asking if his followers preferred Musk who initially supported Ukraine or the one who now seemed to support Russia.
Tensions were still high when Ukrainian forces moved into contested territory on the battlefield – and their Starlink stopped working, leaving some units stranded.
Colin Kahl, under-secretary of defence for policy at the Pentagon, claimed he then had an urgent phone call with the tech mogul in an effort to steady the internet access for Ukraine.
The official even told journalist Ronan Farrow that he treated Musk as though he were a “diplomat or statesman” due to his influence.
But, he still reportedly told the tech mogul: “If you cut this off, it doesn’t end the war.”
However, Musk was allegedly still looking to placate Russian concerns, having spoken personally with Putin at the time (though he denied speaking to the Russian president about Ukraine).
Still, his concerns emerged after he had “this great conversation with Putin”, a Pentagon official told the New Yorker.
That wasn’t the only thing driving him, though –the world’s richest man was reportedly also worried the technology he had created for peaceful ends was being used for war.
Still, Musk eventually said he’d give the Pentagon more time.
And in mid-October, he tweeted: “The hell with it. Even though Starlink is still losing money and other companies are getting billions of taxpayer $ we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free.”
The US Department of Defence confirmed it had reached a deal with SpaceX in June – yet, according to the New Yorker, the Pentagon is still uneasy.
“Living in the world we live in, in which Elon runs this company and it is a private business under his control, we are living off his good graces. That sucks,” a Pentagon official told The New Yorker.