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Confusion over Russia using Starlink

February 12, 2024

A source in Ukraine says that Russia is importing Starlink equipment from Dubai, but at hugely inflated prices. The Ukrainian (Oleg Kutkov), who repairs damaged Starlink equipment, says that Russia is paying between $5,000 and $6,000 per unit.

He stresses that Starlink is not officially working in or over Russia but says that Russia and Russian consumers are paying for the equipment using “front persons and using EU [credit] cards”.

Kutkov also adds that the Ukrainian military confirmed reports that Starlink has begun to be delivered en-masse to the Russian military through Dubai, with the accounts activated and working in the occupied territories of Ukraine.

His report is backed up by Andriy Tsaplienko, a Ukrainian journalist, who speaking on his Telegram channel said: “The military writes that the occupiers have Starlink with licensed accounts.”

Russian news outlets also say that Starlink satellite communications systems are being sold via multiple Russian online stores, supplied via an intermediary in Dubai. One Russian store is selling complete Starlink kit quite openly for 250,000 Rubles (about $2,750).

“Before being imported into Russia, terminals are registered under various foreign companies (Cyprus is often included), after which an account is activated under any name, often a fictitious one,” the source said.

Reports from Ukraine say that Russian-owned or operated Starlink equipment needs only to be registered under Starlinks ‘Global Roaming Plan’ to have geographic flexibility.

However, Starlink – in a Tweet/X – firmly denies it is available in Russia or that it sells kit to wholesalers in Dubai.

Starlink’s statement says: “SpaceX does not do business of any kind with the Russian Government or its military. Starlink is not active in Russia, meaning service will not work in that country. SpaceX has never sold or marketed Starlink in Russia, nor has it shipped equipment to locations in Russia. If Russian stores are claiming to sell Starlink for service in that country, they are scamming their customers. Starlink also does not operate in Dubai. Starlink cannot be purchased in Dubai nor does SpaceX ship there. Additionally, Starlink has not authorised any third-party intermediaries, resellers or distributors of any kind to sell Starlink in Dubai. If SpaceX obtains knowledge that a Starlink terminal is being used by a sanctioned or unauthorized party, we investigate the claim and take actions to deactivate the terminal if confirmed.”

However, other sources in Ukraine say that the official Starlink availability map shows that its kit can be used in at least two of the occupied territories of Ukraine. Another suggests that the UAE is an open country to Russian holidaymakers. Dubai also has a major ‘freeport’ (the Jebel Ali Free Zone’ and claimed to be the world’s biggest free economic zone) where goods can be imported and exported without customs problems.

Elcome International, based in Dubai and a well-regarded marine electronics supplier, is offering Starlink equipment “shipped from Dubai, Spain or Singapore” to “numerous countries around the world”. Elcome offers clients a “comprehensive web-portal for customers to manage their Starlink subscriptions including month-to-mount billing”.

There is another potential explanation and that Starlink equipment has fallen into Russian hands as a result of captured equipment. Starlink supplied an initial 5,000 units to the Ukrainian military.

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