Earlier this month, excerpts from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Elon Musk revealed that the billionaire tech founder had thwarted a planned Ukrainian attack on the Russian Black Sea fleet. The incident in question, which occurred in September 2022, involved Musk denying Starlink internet access to a fleet of Ukrainian unmanned waterborne vehicles that had been deployed to strike the Russian naval base at Sevastopol, in occupied Crimea.
Musk was purportedly motivated by fears that the operation might prompt Moscow to “escalate” its war against Ukraine by offering up a nuclear response.
Musk was wrong about the location of this particular Kremlin “red line.” In October 2022, one month after its explosive-laden watercraft washed up harmlessly on the shores of Crimea due to the lack of a Starlink connection, Ukraine managed to execute a successful strike, damaging as many as four Russian warships in the process. Then, just last week, yet another attack on the naval base caused still further damage to the Russian fleet.
Unsurprisingly, Moscow’s response has not been to wipe Kyiv—let alone London or Washington—off the face of the Earth. Instead, just as it has done every time one of its purported “red lines” has been crossed, Moscow has proven that its nuclear bluster is just that: a bluff.
But it is important to note that these repeated bluffs should not be considered as proof that Russia has no nuclear “red line,” only that each and every point-of-no-return hinted at so far in the conflict has proven to be a Kremlin deception.
Yes, Elon Musk fell for a false Kremlin propaganda narrative. However, he has a lot of company around the world. At various points in time, countless citizens of civilized countries have fallen for one or another of the Kremlin’s deceptions, which include, among many, these claims: that the United States had surrounded Russia with a ring of biological and chemical weapons facilities acting in the guise of public health institutes; that Putin was so informationally isolated on February 24, 2022 that he genuinely believed Ukrainian IT workers would greet Russian tank crews as liberators on the streets of Kyiv.
Let he who has never been taken in by a false Kremlin propaganda narrative cast the first rhetorical stone at Elon.