White House vows action if Russia targets U.S. satellites like SpaceX

The White House said on Thursday that any attack on U.S. infrastructure will be met in “an appropriate way” after a Russian official threatened that any commercial satellites would be seen as legitimate targets if used to help Ukraine.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Russia had been attempting to “pursue anti-satellite technology and capability."

Later, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated her colleague's remarks and stated that the Biden administration would “pursue all means to explore, deter and hold Russia accountable for any such attacks.”

A flash of an arc is shown as a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the 25th batch of approximately 60 satellites for SpaceX's Starlink broadband network lifts off from the Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., in April 2021.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., in April 2021. (John Raoux/AP) (AP)

It comes after a deputy director in Russia’s Foreign Ministry warned that any satellites utilized by the U.S. or its allies to benefit Kyiv would be the target for a “retaliatory strike.” Speaking in a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly’s First Committee, Konstantin Vorontsov said the Western “quasi-civilian infrastructure” involved in Ukraine’s war effort was an “extremely dangerous trend."

He said, according to the Russian government's news agency Tass, “The West’s actions unreasonably jeopardize the stability of the civil space activities and numerous socioeconomic processes on the ground, which determine people’s well-being, first of all in developing countries."

Vorontsov did not call out any companies by name, but last week Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, said his company had been spending $20 million per month to provide Ukraine with the company's Starlink satellite internet services. Other American satellite operators include Maxar Technologies, Planet Labs PBC and Viasat, the Wall Street Journal reported.

A person looks at a smartphone near a SpaceX Starlink internet terminal installed in a flower bed in Vorzel, Ukraine.
A SpaceX Starlink internet terminal installed in a flower bed in Vorzel, Ukraine. (Taras Podolian/ Images Ukraine via Getty Images) (Global Images Ukraine via Getty)

It was just three days after Russia’s invasion began when Musk announced that Starlink stations had been activated for on-the-ground use in Ukraine. More recently, government documents revealed that the Pentagon was going to expand its use of SpaceX capabilities to provide satellite-based internet services for Kyiv.

Vorontsov was not clear about whether any potential attacks on commercial or civilian satellites would be targeted through cyberattacks or physical strikes. Though the comments were made on Thursday, it appears that Musk has always been aware of such a risk. In March, he tweeted: “Important warning: Starlink is the only non-Russian communications system still working in some parts of Ukraine, so probability of being targeted is high. Please use with caution.”

Earlier this month, the warning materialized when Musk tweeted that Starlink “has faced relentless jamming attacks.”