Pentagon shuts down hundreds of ‘illegal’ Starlinks used by Russian troops in Ukraine

The Pentagon was able to take down hundreds of unauthorized Starlink terminals that were being utilized by Russian troops on the front lines in Ukraine. To combat the illicit use of these terminals, SpaceX strongly cooperated with the US military. 

The U.S. Department of Defense reports that Russia has successfully used wireless satellite internet connection terminals that it purchased through evasion schemes.

According to Bloomberg, SpaceX and the U.S. military have been actively collaborating to combat the unauthorized use of Starlink satellite communication terminals by Russian invasion forces in Ukraine, as stated by Pentagon official Amanda Dory.

Dory reported that the United States found almost one in a hundred Starlink terminals in Ukraine to be unlawful, presumably referring to those located in areas seized by Russia. In retaliation, the United States was able to successfully shut down several hundred unapproved terminals.

SpaceX to establish a ‘white list’ to block ‘illegal’ Starlinks

By using non-Russian bank cards to make payments and placing orders through middlemen, Russians were able to purchase telecom equipment. SpaceX plans to establish a “white list” mechanism to address this issue, ensuring the continued operation of only officially approved Starlink units for the Armed Forces of Ukraine, while prohibiting others.

The U.S. Department of Defense previously stated that SpaceX is helping to prevent the Russian military from using Starlink services. Dory emphasized that the Pentagon is aware of the Russian forces’ adaptation and will likely look for new ways to obtain this vital means of communication.

In May, the Pentagon conceded that regular procedures might not be able to address the situation and confirmed that Russian forces were in fact utilizing Starlink terminals for communication in Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory.

The Russian Federation uses a simple but efficient approach to acquiring Starlink terminals: paying with non-Russian bank cards and buying them through middlemen. Therefore, blocking every terminal would be ineffective, as Russia could easily substitute the prohibited devices with new ones.

The Pentagon proposed a more sensible solution: the creation of a whitelist. In Ukraine and its occupied regions, this system would only allow access to official terminals listed for use by the Ukrainian Defense Forces. All other terminals would be prohibited.

How Russian buy Starlinks?

Last winter, InsightNews reported that Russian invading troops were using Starlink at the front in the war against Ukraine. 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.

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.

How 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 to 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.

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 continue its war aggression.

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