Available for Russia’s war in Ukraine. How are Starlinks sold in Russia?

This winter, it was reported that Russian invading troops were using Starlink at the front in the war against Ukraine. At the same time, Elon Musk said that no one sold terminals to Russia.

Starlink terminals cannot be purchased in Russia officially. But as it turned out, many retailers sell them unofficially. The Russians are finding workarounds and supply chains, and importing Starlink terminals, in particular, through the UAE and Kazakhstan.

Together with the Institute for Cyber Warfare Studies, the Ukrainian private intelligence company Molfar found out where the Russians get their Starlinks. Investigators contacted Russian store salespeople, who told them about the sales and delivery schemes.

The investigators learned that:

  • Russians import starlinks from the UAE and Kazakhstan.
  • Russians work through European and American accounts.
  • As of February 2024, the Russians had more than a hundred Starlink terminals, and dozens of new terminals were still expected to be delivered.
  • The cost of one Starlink for Russians starts at 240 thousand rubles without a subscription.

In February, the Defense Intelligence Agency of Ukraine reported that Russia is purchasing communications equipment, including Starlink satellite Internet terminals, from Arab countries for use in the war against Ukraine. 

Starlink operates on the territory of Ukraine. However, it also operates in the territories of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions occupied by Russia, as well as in the occupied parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Russian stores that sell Starlink say that the terminals will also work in the annexed Crimea, although there may be interruptions in the signal.

“Famous satellite Internet” is how some Russian websites disguisedly present their Starlink products, because officially, Starlink cannot be purchased in Russia. But it’s not the case for the Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia.

Russian stores selling Starlink terminals

They list the sale of Starlink as “Starlink available for the special military operation” (it’s how Putin’s regime calls its war in Ukraine). As the store representative said in the conversation, they have been selling for a year and a half and provide an “eternal” warranty on the equipment and account if there is no weapon impact on the terminal itself.

The seller also said that he was known among the Russian military and senior officials. In a dialogue with Molfar investigators, the seller said that as of February 21, 2024, they had at least 80 Starlinks available. There are many such sellers.

  • DjiRussia.ru (djirussia.ru) is the official distributor of Chinese DJI quadcopters. It indicates that it sells Starlink in Russia. The price includes “connection and the first month of use.” The seller does not indicate any restrictions on the area of use.
  • Strlnk (Strlnk.ru) is a company that sells Starlink in Russia. The website states that the system has been tested “for operation in Crimea, LPR, DPR, Kherson region, Kaliningrad region, and Kamchatka.”. 
  • iMiele (imiele.ru) is a Russian online appliance store. The analysts found that, as of February 20, 2024, there were 10 Starlinks in stock. The sellers added that by the end of the week, by February 25, 2024, they are expecting a large shipment, which will result in 60 devices in total.
  • StarlinkRF (starlnkrf.ru) is a company that says that their store is “the largest supplier of Starlinks in Russia.” They also say that their stations “work in the DPR, LPR, Kherson region, Crimea, and St. Petersburg.”.
  • Shopozz (shopozz.ru) is a Russian store selling goods from American, European, and Chinese online stores. Starlink and its components are resold from foreign stores with delivery to Russia.

Cost of Starlink in Russia

After talking to Russian sellers, the Molfar investigators learned that the equipment was brought from Europe and had not yet been activated. The Starlink itself in this store costs 240,000 Russian rubles (about $2,500) and another 13,600 rubles ($145) for subscription and activation.

The seller creates an account and pays via foreign bank cards. The store representatives provide instructions on how to set up and use the device and sell spare parts and spare elements. There are five or more devices available. Payments are accepted only in cash.

According to another seller, quoted by a Russian portal on February 5, 2024: “The problem is the contract. You need to have a friend in America or Europe who will buy not only the subscriber station but also the tariff. Through him, this tariff must be replenished every month. The equipment can be easily transferred to another tariff, just like changing a SIM card, but also through a contact abroad.”

Strlnk shop. The owner said that the equipment was brought from Europe and the UAE. Starlink has been operating in Russia for about a year. 

Top machines shop. The owner admitted that the equipment was brought from the United States. They have been delivering Starlink for about six months. Here, the device is more expensive than in previous stores: 249,000 rubles per unit of equipment. Another 20,000 rubles for activation and 13,600 for a monthly subscription fee. Starlink is activated via VPN.

Russian supply routes through UAE and Kazakhstan

The only problem for Russians was that Starlink “is detained at all borders on the way to Russia.” These are the words of one of the representatives of the online store. An article in a Russian publication notes that although all Starlink is smuggled, supplies are made on a wholesale scale. The kits are now sold activated, and their price is lower.

One of Starlink’s supply channels to Russia runs through the UAE, which is confirmed by the interception of the occupiers’ conversation. Another confirmation is from a specialist working for the Top Machines store. The store’s Telegram account has connections to Dubai. Another Russian store, DJI Russia, also has connections to Dubai via Telegram. 

 Another channel for Starlink supplies to Russia is Kazakhstan. In this case, we are talking about the retail supply of Starlink to Russia. The store “Vesem iz KZ” orders goods from abroad to Russia. In February 2024, they published a list of goods available for order. Among them is Starlink and a link to order it from the American Best Buy store.

The delivery of at least 18 Starlink sets to Kazakhstan was detected, starting on April 24, 2022. The supplier for Darin Tel LLP was Safa Telecom, a company from the UAE. The legal entity “Darin Tel LLP,” which operates under the name “IEC Telecom Kazakhstan,” according to the website, is part of the IEC Telecom group, a satellite communications operator, and operates in Europe, Turkey, Singapore, and, in particular, in the UAE.

Russian troops use Starlinks in the war against Ukraine

On February 11, 2024, Ukraine’s military intelligence confirmed that Russian invading troops were using Starlinks in the war zone in Ukraine and reported that the scale of use was growing. The next day, February 12, 2024, Elon Musk denied selling Starlinks to Russia saying that “to the best of the company’s knowledge, no Starlinks have been sold to Russia directly or indirectly.”

Ukrainian intelligence released intercepts proving that the 83rd Air Assault Brigade of the Russian Federation, which is stationed near the occupied settlements of Klishchiyivka and Andriivka, was using Starlinks. Ukrainian intelligence received the data on the use of Starlink by this brigade during the interception of the Russians’ conversation, in which he said that the Russians had installed the application and had Internet access. 

Is it possible to block Stralink terminals used by Russian troops?

The Ukrainian Armed Forces have been using Starlink terminals since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion. This has given Kyiv a significant advantage in the fight against Putin’s invading troops. 

As the information about the sale of Starlink terminals to the Russian army through third countries has been verified and confirmed, sanctioning the intermediary companies involved in the supply chain is necessary. Nevertheless, a thorough investigation is needed, and Elon Mask’s company has a moral and corporate responsibility to help identify and halt supply chains. 

It should be possible to identify numbers in the EU and the US used for Starlink terminals that operate on the occupied territories of Ukraine, undoubtedly by Russian troops. And switch them off.

In recent months, the United States and the EU have stepped up their efforts to combat sanctions circumvention against Russia in order to supply components that Moscow uses to manufacture weapons and strengthen its military capabilities at the front.

Halting the supply of war-related items to Russia is crucial to dismantling Putin’s war machine. Otherwise, it will offset the West’s military and financial aid to Ukraine and encourage the Putin regime to launch new aggressions, likely against European NATO members.

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