Russian President Vladimir Putin has hailed tech billionaire Elon Musk as an “outstanding person” and businessman whose SpaceX company has become a key player in the space transportation industry.
Putin’s public praise of Musk on Tuesday comes days after the South African-born and United States-based entrepreneur said he refused a Ukrainian request last year to activate his Starlink satellite communication network in the Russian-annexed Crimean port city of Sevastopol to aid an attack on Russia’s Black Sea fleet, saying he feared complicity in a “major” act of war.
Putin, speaking at an economic forum in Russia’s Far East, did not refer to the Starlink controversy. But when asked about the success of Musk’s SpaceX company in launching rockets into space, he was full of praise.
“As far as private business and Elon Musk is concerned… he is undoubtedly an outstanding person. This must be recognised, and I think it is recognised all over the world,” Putin said.
“He [Musk] is an active and talented businessman and he is succeeding a lot, including with the support of the American state,” he added.
Putin also offered a defence of former US President Donald Trump and the multiple criminal cases that he is facing.
The charges against Trump show the “rottenness of the American political system”, Putin said at the forum.
“What is happening with Trump is a persecution of a political rival for political motives.”
Trump is facing several separate criminal cases in the US, including being charged in federal court in Washington, DC with attempted election fraud over his alleged efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. In a Georgia state court, he is charged with election interference and in federal court in Florida, he faces charges for allegedly mishandling classified documents after leaving the White House.
Earlier this month, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, one of the most hawkish voices in the Kremlin when it comes to Ukraine and the potential for a widening conflict with the West, also took to the Musk-owned X social media platform, previously known as Twitter, to praise Musk’s actions regarding Starlink, Crimea and Ukraine’s forces.
Medvedev described Musk as “the last adequate mind in North America”.
Ukrainian officials have criticised Musk’s decision to protect the Russian fleet from attack by Ukraine and US Democratic Party Senator Elizabeth Warren has called for an investigation of Musk’s actions.
The US Congress should investigate “whether we have adequate tools to make sure foreign policy is conducted by the government and not by one billionaire”, Warren said on Monday, according to the Bloomberg news agency.
Musk’s SpaceX firm won a contract from the US Department of Defense to provide Ukraine with Starlink satellite communication services.
Russia, which seized the strategic Crimean Peninsula in 2014 from Ukraine, bases its Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol and has used the fleet to blockade Ukrainian ports since its full-scale invasion of the country in 2022.
The Russian fleet also fires cruise missiles at Ukrainian civilian targets. Kyiv has launched attacks on Russian ships using maritime drones.
In a post on X last week, Musk said he had no choice but to reject an emergency request from Ukraine “to activate Starlink all the way to Sevastopol”.
Musk did not give the date of the request and the excerpt did not specify it.
Much appreciated, Walter.
The onus is meaningfully different if I refused to act upon a request from Ukraine vs. made a deliberate change to Starlink to thwart Ukraine.
At no point did I or anyone at SpaceX promise coverage over Crimea.
Moreover, our terms of service clearly… https://t.co/jmNtScM5LY
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 9, 2023
“The obvious intent being to sink most of the Russian fleet at anchor,” Musk wrote.
“If I had agreed to their request, then SpaceX would be explicitly complicit in a major act of war and conflict escalation.”