As Russia continued its bombing campaign against Ukrainian infrastructure, a senior Russian government official said that Moscow might shoot down commercial Western satellites being used to support Ukraine’s war effort.
Inevitably, if carried out, the threat would fuel worries about a further escalation of the eight-month-old conflict and the possibility of a clash between Russia and the West.
Neither the American government nor the private satellite companies reacted immediately.
Senior Russian foreign ministry official Konstantin Vorontsov labeled the utilization of Western satellites to aid the Ukrainian war effort “an extremely dangerous trend.”
“Quasi-civilian infrastructure may be a legitimate target for a retaliatory strike,” he told the United Nations First Committee, adding that the West’s use of such satellites to support Ukraine was “provocative.”
“We are talking about the involvement of components of civilian space infrastructure, including commercial, by the United States and its allies in armed conflicts,” said Vorontsov.
He did not mention any specific satellite companies, though Elon Musk said earlier this month that his rocket company SpaceX would continue to fund its Starlink internet service in Ukraine, citing the need for “good deeds.”
Russia, the US, and China all have sizable offensive space capabilities. Russia sent an anti-satellite missile into space in 2021 to take out one of its own satellites.
Vadym Skibitsky, Ukraine’s deputy head of military intelligence, told Britain’s Telegraph newspaper that Kyiv was using U.S.-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers based on what he called excellent satellite imagery and real-time information in August, prompting Moscow to accuse the United States of direct involvement in the conflict.
Satellite images of the conflict zone captured by commercial U.S. satellite imagery firms are pored over daily on Twitter by open source intelligence experts who highlight the coordinates of potential Russian military vulnerabilities.