WASHINGTON: Elon Musk has gotten into a Twitter tussle with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy after the tech billionaire floated a divisive proposal to end Russia’s invasion.
The Tesla CEO, soon facing a court fight over his attempt to abandon a $44 billion offer to buy Twitter, argued in a tweet Monday that to reach peace Russia should be allowed to keep the Crimea Peninsula that it seized in 2014. He also said Ukraine should adopt a neutral status, dropping a bid to join NATO following Russia’s partial mobilization of reservists.
Musk also crossed red lines for Ukraine and its supporters by suggesting that four regions Russia is moving to annex following Kremlin-orchestrated “referendums” denounced by the West as a sham should hold repeat votes organized by the United Nations.
Musk noted Crimea was part of Russia until it was given to Ukraine under the Soviet Union in 1950s and said that a drawn-out war will likely not end in a resounding Ukrainian victory.
These positions are anathema for Zelenskyy, who considers them pro-Kremlin. The Ukrainian leader has pledged to recover all the terrain conquered in the war and considers Crimea as Ukraine’s to reclaim as well.
Musk also launched a Twitter poll asking whether “the will of the people” should decide if seized regions remain part of Ukraine or become part of Russia.
In a sarcastic response, Zelenskyy posted a Twitter poll of his own asking “which Elon Musk do you like more?”: “One who supports Ukraine” or “One who supports Russia.”
Musk replied to Zelenskyy that “I still very much support Ukraine, but am convinced that massive escalation of the war will cause great harm to Ukraine and possibly the world.”
Andrij Melnyk, the outgoing Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, responded to Musk’s original tweet with an obscenity.
“Russia is doing partial mobilization. They go to full war mobilization if Crimea is at risk. Death on both sides will be devastating,” Musk wrote in another tweet. “Russia has (over) 3 times population of Ukraine, so victory for Ukraine is unlikely in total war. If you care about the people of Ukraine, seek peace.”
The Kremlin itself chimed in, praising Musk for his proposal but warning that Russia will not backtrack on its move to absorb the Ukrainian regions.
“It’s very positive that such a person as Elon Musk is trying to look for a peaceful settlement,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday. But, “as for the referendums, people have voiced their opinion and there could be nothing else.”
Ukraine and the West have said that the hastily organized votes in four occupied regions were clearly rigged to serve Putin’s purpose to try to cement his loosening grip on Ukrainian terrain.
Musk’s ideas seemed to get little support on Twitter, including from Russian chess great and anti-Putin political activist Garry Kasparov, who bashed the plan.
“This is moral idiocy, repetition of Kremlin propaganda, a betrayal of Ukrainian courage and sacrifice, and puts a few minutes browsing Crimea on Wikipedia over the current horrific reality of Putin’s bloody war,” Kasparov tweeted.
In the first weeks of the invasion in early March, Musk came to Ukraine’s aid when his SpaceX company shared its Starlink satellite system that helps deliver internet access to areas that lack coverage. At the time, Zelenskyy thanked Musk for the equipment that he said would help maintain communications in cities under attack.
However, in April, Musk said that as a “free speech absolutist” Starlink would not block Russian state media outlets that spread propaganda and misinformation on the war in Ukraine.