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Musk's brilliance and controversies: Trump, Starlink in Crimea, and Twitter scandals

Musk's brilliance and controversies: Trump, Starlink in Crimea, and Twitter scandals Photo: Elon Musk - a star entrepreneur and a scandalous personality (Getty Images)

Elon Musk is a world-famous investor, inventor, engineer, and startup entrepreneur. He created the brands SpaceX, and Tesla, bought Twitter (and called it X), and was among the founders of PayPal. His inventions, including space rockets and Starlink, bring the future closer. But periodically, Musk allows himself controversial actions and statements regarding US policy and national security, Russia's war against Ukraine, and so on.

Read about the main scandals in which the billionaire was recently embroiled below in the material by RBC-Ukraine.

Ukraine and Starlink

Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov previously admitted in an interview with RBC-Ukraine that without the work of Starlink, "it would be impossible to build the network war." He added that thanks to these satellite Internet systems, we have a real advantage in communication over the Russians. According to Fedorov, the contribution of SpaceX to the victory of Ukraine is about 100 million US dollars.

In the first days and hours of the confrontation, the Russians quite actively suppressed the means of communication of our military. But Starlink worked stably even in the absence of the Internet.

But when the Armed Forces decided to use it for attacks against Russia, problems began to arise. And not only in the south. The terminals were also periodically turned off in Donbas and the east, which, by the way, was previously reported by the Western media. The Ukrainian side avoided details in its official comments. However, the most scandalous event was yet to come.

In 2022, according to his soon-to-be-published biography, Elon Musk allegedly ordered his engineers to turn off the Starlink satellite communications network so that Ukrainian naval drones with ammunition would not attack the Russian fleet in Crimea. Left unmanned and out of communication, the drones did no harm and quietly floated ashore.

Геніальність та сором Ілона Маска: Трамп, Starlink у Криму та скандали з Twitter

Photo: Starlink saved the communication of the Ukrainian army, but Musk created problems with it for the Armed Forces (Getty Images)

This decision was allegedly due to the fear that Russia would respond with a nuclear strike for the attack on its fleet in the harbor during a secret operation. Musk called the situation a "mini Pearl Harbor." And all because of communication with high-level Russian officials.

As the Financial Times wrote, Elon Musk leaked correspondence with Fedorov about this event to Walter Isaacson. The Ukrainian official did not know about it at the time. But since the conversation took place more than a year ago, its publication would have no consequences and was allowed.

There was also a scandal over who should pay for the operation of Starlink. SpaceX said it spent tens of millions of dollars to support satellite Internet in Ukraine after February 24. After the topic became popular in the media, Musk wrote on his Twitter account: "The hell with it... we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free."

In the biography by Walter Isaacson, Musk explained that his invention was created for peaceful purposes, not for "drone strikes." For example, on February 9, 2023, satellite Internet from Starlink was generally restricted in Ukraine due to its use in hostilities, reported the company's chief operating officer, Gwynne Shotwell.

And five days later, Musk said the same thing, but arguing the position "with fear because of the beginning of World War Three." He added that Starlink has never worked near Crimea, and the request to turn on the Internet "all the way to Sevastopol" was urgent and came from the Ukrainian Armed Forces, writes CNN.

In a conversation with the Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, Musk admitted that he was impressed by the design of Ukrainian drones. But he still refused to turn them on near Crimea, because allegedly "Ukraine is going too far and setting itself up for defeat."

The US Senate is now demanding an investigation into the incident. Senator Elizabeth Warren emphasized that it is necessary to "have the adequate tools to make sure foreign policy is conducted by the government and not by one billionaire." And also for the Pentagon to review its contracts with SpaceX. Elon Musk is expected to attend the closed hearing on Wednesday, September 13.

In his defense, Musk said that he is a citizen of the United States and has only that passport, and he will fight for and die in America. "The United States Congress has not declared war on Russia," he said.

Twitter and politics

After acquiring Twitter for $44 billion in October 2022, Musk began major changes in the company. In particular, the reduction of entire departments and the dismissal of many employees. He looked at co-workers' internal correspondence and their social media posts to find those who had a bad opinion of him. And in the end, such employees were dismissed.

Also, despite the warning by the technical department, on the eve of Christmas, Musk and a small team moved Twitter's servers to another location in order to save money. He later admitted that this was a mistake because it led to service problems. Musk removed Twitter from the anti-disinformation code, and the hashtags on Russian media accounts disappeared.

Геніальність та сором Ілона Маска: Трамп, Starlink у Криму та скандали з TwitterPhoto: After Elon Musk bought Twitter, a lot of strange things started happening there, including support for fakes and Russian propaganda (Getty Images)

Elon Musk has a difficult relationship with both political parties in the US - Democrats and Republicans. He periodically supports some Republicans and calls to vote for them. But he does not consider himself a fan of Donald Trump and calls him "disruptive, a con man and kind of nuts."

According to the biography by Isaacson, after buying Twitter, Musk jokingly told his four sons: “How else are we going to get Trump elected in 2024?”

But he was also disappointed with the fact that the Democratic Party is increasingly drifting to the left. He calls Joe Biden "boring as hell, like one of those dolls where you pull the string and it just says the same mindless phrases over and over." This is Musk's impression from a long-ago meeting when Biden was the vice president of the United States.

Interesting facts: Musk offered Trump a mission to colonize other planets shortly after he was elected president of the United States. The inventor planned to start with Mars. In addition to Musk, the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, was also present at that meeting at Trump Tower. Although Trump has shown interest in the development and restart of the American space program, little has actually come of it, except for directives on the allocation of funds and slogans to send people to Mars by 2033.

Who else did Musk discuss space exploration with? With Vladimir Putin. He told the Pentagon that he spoke directly with the Russian dictator in the fall of 2022. However, not only about this. "Peace plans" for Ukraine and Russia appeared on his page. He proposed that Ukraine remain neutral, come to terms with the loss of Crimea, and hold elections on territories already seized by Russia.

A study conducted in the EU showed that the policy of X (formerly Twitter) contributed to the spread of pro-Russian propaganda on this social network.

Tesla accidents and AI

Tesla electric cars are the first thing Elon Musk began to be associated with in the world, even before the SpaceX flights. However, it was not without problems and scandals. Cars controlled by artificial intelligence hit passers-by and crashed. As of June 2023, 17 people have died in 736 crashes involving Teslas on Autopilot.

Musk admitted that Tesla had problems at the beginning for a long time and this was really reflected in the mental and physical state of the entrepreneur, who lived in "survive-or-die mode" and it was not "that easy to get motivated every day."

After the report on the number of crashes, he assured that the company would develop a better autopilot system that would see stop signs, school buses, and people on the road. However, Musk still believed that his artificial intelligence was safer than real drivers and would save many lives.

Геніальність та сором Ілона Маска: Трамп, Starlink у Криму та скандали з Twitter

Photo: Autopilot in Tesla cars often caused accidents with casualties (Getty Images)

Musk is still wary of the rapid development of AI around the world (regardless of his creations). Yes, he helped create the current monster OpenAI (ChatGPT), but left the team in 2018. In his biography, Musk worried that one day the computer brain would surpass the human one. Therefore, in order to "preserve human consciousness in the event of a world war", he is building rockets to Mars, writes Time.

"Well, yes, I am pro-human. I f-cking like humanity," said Musk to a friend from Google, Larry Page. However, the friendship ended when Page wanted to acquire the British company DeepMind to develop his AI system. Then Musk said: "The future of AI should not be controlled by Larry.”

The idea that people should still be above the AI and control it, rather than letting the technology "go rogue and develop their own goals and intentions", has led him to the creation of several companies: Neuralink, which now makes chips that could connect human brains directly to computers; Optimus - builds robots; and the Dojo supercomputer for simulating the human brain.

Later, all three merged into the huge firm xAI. When Microsoft and Google presented their ChatGPT and Bard bots, Musk really started to worry. He believed that systems capable of self-education would harm humanity. Especially in the context of misinformation and Twitter scams via malicious chatbots. The solution was to restrict access to the tweet feed for Google and Microsoft to not feed them data.

The idea of combining videos from Tesla cars and texts from X allowed Musk to benefit from AI: the ability to create robots and teach AI models to respond in human language.