Home » Ukraine Update: Everything we learn about Elon Musk’s actions makes them worse

Ukraine Update: Everything we learn about Elon Musk’s actions makes them worse

According to multiple sources, Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Russian Republic of Chechnya, loyal toady to Vladimir Putin, and producer of hilarious TikTok videos, has been hospitalized. Some of those reports say the man who betrayed Chechen forces to Russia is in a coma. There are also reports that the Chechen health minister has been disappeared for failing to keep Kadyrov in tiptop condition.

In recent photos, Kadyrov has appeared severely swollen. Make that more severely swollen than usual. His odd appearance and reduced visibility lends a certain amount of credence to reports that he is seriously ill. On the other hand … Kadyrov claimed to have been poisoned by a letter earlier this year and was said to be at death’s door before he popped up in Moscow and the whole brink-of-death-take-one was forgotten.

So this could easily be part of a stunt to explain how Kadyrov was too strong to be felled by a heart attack. Or how he wrestled single-handed with Death and whipped the Grim Reaper’s bony butt.  Honestly, even reports that Kadyrov had died could be just the prequel to glorious reports of his resurrection. Because, after everything else he has pulled, why not?

Here’s Kadyrov a year ago, very believably beating a UFC fighter.

But of all the ridiculous Kadyrov videos, my favorite has to be one that he didn’t produce. This video from The World is One News is so funny simply because it seemingly takes everything about “Lyulya” seriously. That the announcer keeps a straight face throughout this is either an admirable act of farce, or extremely distressing.

In any case, don’t be surprised to learn either that Kadyrov is dead and there’s a mad scramble for power in Chechnya, or that he’s descending through the clouds after ripping a sword away from the nearest archangel while preparing to take out his vengeance … on whatever nearby Russian town can pass for Ukraine.

Everything we learn about Elon Musk makes it worse

Biographer Walter Isaacson has been making the rounds in conjunction with the release of his ode to Elon. While the author is clearly anxious to talk about anything else, his interviews invariably turn back to Musk’s actions in Ukraine, because those actions, and what they reveal about the greater threat Musk represents, are not good.

In the latest conversation with Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, Isaacson is doing his best to defend the man he just spent three years following around. According to his biographer, Musk has not talked to Putin, which contradicts Musk’s own statements. Also, says Isaacson, everyone should remember that “when the Russians invaded Ukraine, [Musk] immediately came to the aid of Ukraine, and Viasat, the satellite company, its satellites were all disabled. Even the U.S. and other military couldn’t do satellite communication. So Ukraine, as Vice Minister Fedorov has said often, would have been crushed had Starlink, had SpaceX, and Musk not rushed in Starlink satellites. So I think that he still is quite in favor of protecting Ukraine.”

For what it’s worth, Musk didn’t rush any satellites to Ukraine—or even slow-walk them in. He merely offered receivers for satellites that were already in place. While SpaceX did provide some of those initial receivers free and cover some of the service, most of the receivers in Ukraine were bought by Ukraine and their service is paid for by Ukraine. When SpaceX complained about the cost of providing free service—which wasn’t so much “cost” as failing to generate revenue—the U.S. government signed a contract to cover what SpaceX had been providing. For every Starlink receiver now in Ukraine, Musk’s company is drawing revenue.

In fact, earlier this month SpaceX reported that they had turned a profit of $55 million on “surging revenue” of $1.5 billion.

Musk did move in to provide a service early in the invasion. And it was useful. That action acted as fantastic advertising for his new service and has since become a source of revenue for his company. Which makes it hard to think of this as a wholly humanitarian gesture … especially in light of what else Isaacson had to say.

Isaacson: I made a mistake, which I mentioned a couple of days ago, and I’ve said–which as I put in the book–he cut off Starlink. In fact, what he did was reaffirm the decision that it would not be enabled on the Crimean coast, and I have all the text messages back and forth because the Ukrainians didn’t know that.

So that night–I mean, the essential point is that night, Musk did make the decision not to enable Starlink to be used for this sneak attack. Now, I should have just expressed it that way, which is he decided not to enable Starlink to be used for this sneak attack, but that leads to the broader question of what gives him the power to decide whether or not a sneak attack on Crimea is something that should be allowed and whether or not it would lead to a wider war.<.blockquote>

Let’s walk through these two paragraphs. First, Isaacson seems to think it’s somehow better that Musk didn’t turn off service around Crimea; he just geofenced that area of occupied Ukraine off and didn’t tell Ukraine.

Second, it was not a “sneak attack.” It was a fucking attack. That’s how attacks work. You don’t announce them in advance.

Labeling this a “sneak attack” or comparing it, as Musk did, to Pearl Harbor, suggests that Ukraine was doing something heinous here, something outside the normal bounds of war. The truth is, they were defending themselves by striking at an enemy that was occupying Ukrainian territory and using that territory to launch missiles into civilian homes, leading to thousands of civilian deaths. Ukraine was using weapons specifically designed to take out military targets, while Russia was using those military targets to strike civilian buildings.

“Sneak attack.” Damn.

But wait, we’re not done.

Ignatius: Why were the Ukrainians so surprised to learn that they wouldn’t get Starlink coverage in Crimea?

Isaacson: Because Musk had not enabled it at Crimea and kept that a secret.

And by the way, as you’ve probably seen in the book, there’s all these encrypted text messages that I was given because it happens in Donbas as well. They can’t figure out, because Musk also decides not to enable it in parts of eastern Ukraine, because he doesn’t want it to be used for offensive purposes.

The Senate probe into this asshole cannot get moving soon enough. What Isaacson is casually acknowledging here is that Musk has ceded both Crimea and the Donbas to Russia, and deemed any attempt by Ukraine to liberate these territories, or even to fight back against weapons systems deployed in these territories, as an offensive act.

Musk is willing to help Ukraine … so long as they stay outside the bounds of a Greater Russia that he’s already handily defined without telling them.

Let’s go one more step before we let this go for the day.

Ignatius: Walter, why did Musk keep the fact that Starlink was not enabled for Crimea secret from the Ukrainians? In effect, they were walking into a trap. They thought they had coverage that they didn’t. Why did he keep it secret?

Isaacson: It was geofenced, as I said. He felt that the terms of service was–it wasn’t supposed to be used for offensive purposes. You and I can discuss all you want whether or not Crimea, you know, is part of Ukraine and it should have been included, but it wasn’t. And, you know, why didn’t he tell the Ukrainians exactly where the geofence was? Frankly, I don’t know.

Yeah, why wouldn’t he do that, Walter? Seems pretty fucking sneaky.

Zaporizhzhia Front is either collapsing, or stagnant, or…

According to Igor Kossov at the Kyiv Independent, every day in Zaporizhzhia is bringing Russian forces closer to collapse. Breaches in Russian defenses are being widened. Russian equipment is being attrited. And Russian forces have a fundamental issue: They’re fighting with defensive positions created by one general, but operating under the command of another general who has a very different style.

Kossov notes what everyone has noted: Gen. Sergei Surovikin built elaborate multitier lines of defense including massive mine fields, rows of dragon’s teeth, tank trenches, personnel trenches, pillboxes, and hardened firing positions. But Surovikin was seen as being too close to Wagner Group’s former leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin. That connection got Surovikin benched for several months before he turned up in Africa.

In Surovikin’s absence, command fell to Gen. Valery Gerasimov. Rather than huddle behind the defenses his predecessor had constructed, Gerasimov sent his troops forward, often massing them in attempts to hold or retake ground. This generated extremely high losses and has diminished Russian forces to the point where defending Surovikin’s lines could be difficult, even if they decided to climb into those trenches and keep their heads down.

On the other hand, analysts who have been following the invasion from the beginning can’t help but notice that there’s been a prolonged period in which the lines in the south don’t seem to have changed.


Ukraine may be, as Kossov indicates, in the midst of solidifying its hold on trenches and towns it has already liberated. It may be positioning itself for the next move. But that long period of relative inactivity is a little distressing.

It would be considerably more distressing if kos had not gone over these concerns and exactly why this was likely to happen, shortly after Ukraine liberated Robotyne.

What was once a slow, plodding advance picked up a great deal of steam, shocking observers with its sudden rapid gains. But if all goes well, things should slow down for a bit. And that’s not a typo—if things go well.

It may be frustrating for those who, like me, take great pleasure from flipping the color of dots on towns and redrawing the border between Ukrainian and Russian forces, but this period of relative stability fits right into the Gerasimov-ness of Russian actions on the southern front. Ukraine moved until it held the high ground on the east of Robotyne, and had broken through both the first and second defensive lines. Then it … stopped. It’s an action that allows Ukrainian forces to regroup and bring fresh forces to the front, while any effort to retake ground by Russia runs into reinforced, well-positioned troops.

It’s also an opportunity for Ukraine to move up the tanks and other heavy weaponry that is often lagging the infantry in this peculiar new style of drone- and foot-soldier-dominated war.

A closer look shows that the sub Rostov-on-Don took a direct hit

The U.K. government seems pretty excited about the way the Ukrainian military put those Sky Shadow missiles to use.

There have been numerous close-up looks at the Ropucha Class landing ship Minsk, and all of them appear to show a vessel that is out of the game, likely forever. Both the initial impact and the subsequent fire did such extensive damage that the ship is little more than a burned out hulk.

The Kilo-class submarine Rostov-on-Don also took a direct hit, and also saw fire across much of its outer hull, but it’s harder to predict just how bad the damage really is. Close-up images of the sub’s nose show that the missile apparently impacted well ahead of the conning tower, on the steeper curve of the sub’s bow. It’s unclear if this missile actually penetrated the sub’s double hull. If it did, there is likely a great deal of internal damage. Even if it didn’t, the obvious damage to the pressure hull shows that the Rostov-on-Don will need to get towed to some other dry dock before it can be beaten into a configuration able to reach any significant depth.

Neither ship nor boat is going to return in this war—unless it’s as featured players on new Ukrainian stamps.

Movement south of Bakhmut

For the past few days, it seems that there’s been some … disagreement … between Ukrainian leadership and the forces on the ground south of Bakhmut. First, Ukrainian deputy defense minister and military spokesperson Hanna Mailar announced the liberation of Andriivka, only to have members of the forces fighting in that village contradict her. Then the Ukrainian General Staff made the liberation announcement formal just a few hours later.

That was followed up on Friday with announcements that Klishchiivka had been liberated, only to have the primary force fighting in that town pull back their own statement an hour later. But in any case, Ukrainian forces have been walking around the town today with no obvious pushback. That includes Ukrainian troops moving in the area of the northern part of the town, where Russia had been holding out.

So it’s hard to imagine just how much more liberated Klishchiivka can get.

While we wait for it to be official again), enjoy these fine images of Russian soldier’s hightailing it out of both Klishchiivka and Andriivka.



September 2023