US Billionaires on Ukraine war: After Elon Musk, mega investor David Sack slams the conflict

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Bengaluru: Western critics of the Ukraine war are increasing in number and their stridency is rising in tone and tenor. The horrific toll extracted by the war, some estimates put it at half a million casualties, with the conflict costing at least a billion dollars a day, has shocked the world, and people in North America and Europe. The efforts of the US and Europe to further fund the Ukrainian war effort, which has already gobbled up over $250 billion over two years, is being blocked in Congress by the Republicans and by academics, former administration officials and former US army veterans.

Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk has been one of the earliest critics of the war but was trolled heavily for his stance. He was shamed into putting his Starlink satellite communication network for use by the Ukrainian army and government who found that their communications networks had been knocked out by the Russians. Russian cyberattacks rendered Viasat, the satellite network that provided communication services to Ukraine dysfunctional, forcing Ukraine to appeal to Starlink for help.

Musk helped Ukraine with Starlink

In the initial part of the war, Musk’s company helped Ukraine use the Starlink services free of cost, but by mid-2023 the US Defence Department was bearing the costs.

But although his company helped the Ukrainian army with his sat-com service, Musk has been criticised by both the combatant nations. Ukraine has expressed dissatisfaction with Musk’s decision to deny Starlink coverage in areas under Russian control, while Moscow slammed him for offering services to Ukraine for war purposes.

Musk shocks all with a ‘solution’

But all the while, Musk has been critical of the war. In October 2022, eight months into the war, he earned the wrath of Ukraine and its supporters, when he suggested, after a Twitter poll, that the country should cede Crimea, which has been in Russian possession since 2014.

In a tweet which he offered for a poll, Musk suggested that Russia should surrender Crimea since it was under Moscow’s rule since 1783, before Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine (‘until Khrushchev’s mistake’). He also suggested that Ukraine should ensure water supply to Crimea, and that the country should remain neutral (between Russia and the West).

The poll attracted 27,48,378 votes, with 59 per cent voting against, and 41 per cent for. But more importantly, Musk sparked intense backlash from Ukraine, when he said in a companion tweet that what he suggested would be the final outcome of the war anyway, adding “just a question of how many die before then”.

Reacting to the voting on his poll, Musk tweeted: “Wonder how many bots were activated to turn around the original result,” adding, “Indeed. Biggest bot attack I’ve ever seen.”

The poll, and Musk’s tweets triggered Ukrainian angst, but Musk, the world’s richest man, did not care. He continued to hold on to his opinions. In February this year, he urged the US to cut weapon deliveries to Ukraine, arguing that “There is no way in hell’ Putin would lose the war. Anyone who succeeds Putin would be even more hardcore, he suggested.

Kyiv will lose Odessa: Musk

Last weekend, he said he believed that Ukraine’s position in the war was “weakening” by the day and that the longer the war lasts, the more territory Ukraine would lose, including Odessa, the sole Ukrainian port. Losing Odesa would mean Ukraine would be landlocked. He suggested that the Ukrainian counteroffensive in early June 2023 that resulted in horrific losses, without any gain, was doomed from the start.

“It was a tragic waste of life for Ukraine to attack a larger army that had defense in depth, minefields and stronger artillery when Ukraine lacked armor or air superiority!,” Musk posted.

Musk’s stance on the war has been echoed by yet another billionaire-investor, David Sacks, formerly COO of Paypal, and founder of Yammer social media network. Responding to Musk’s tweet on the failed Ukrainian counteroffensive, the US tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist suggested that the Washington elite should be held accountable for promoting the operation, which was preordained to fail.

It was “one of the biggest debacles in the history of modern warfare,” Sacks said, agreeing with Musk. The Ukrainian soldiers and tanks had effectively run “headlong into minefields while Russian artillery rained down on them from heavily fortified positions,” he wrote.

Sacks skewers US officials

Sacks blamed former-CIA chief David Petraeus, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and incumbent t US Secretary of State Antony Blinken should all be held responsible for encouraging the doomed operation. “These people are fools who should have no credibility left. But of course the MSM never holds them accountable so we will get more of the same until Ukraine finally collapses,” Sacks remarked.

With the two influential billionaires could be articulating an increasing disenchantment with the war among US elite, and that could exert pressure on the US establishment to initiate steps to end the war.

Entrepreneurs like Musk and Sacks make their billions from non-military ventures, while the most vocal backers for the war are lobbyists for defence industries. While people like Musk and Sacks representing a growing body of opinion against the conflict, hawks in the American military and defence industry continue to have enormous clout, and the lure of a substantial part of the US money earmarked for Ukraine coming back in the form of defence contracts would be too huge for the US policy makers to hit brakes on supporting the continuation of the war.

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