Thomas Grove, Nicholas Bariyo, Micah Maidenberg, Emma Scott, and Ian Lovett, reporting for The Wall Street Journal:

A salesman at Moscow-based online retailer has supplemented his usual business of peddling vacuum cleaners and dashboard phone mounts by selling dozens of Starlink internet terminals that wound up with Russians on the front lines in Ukraine.

Although Russia has banned the use of Starlink, the satellite-internet service developed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, middlemen have proliferated in recent months to buy the user terminals and ship them to Russian forces. That has eroded a battlefield advantage once enjoyed by Ukrainian forces, which also rely on the cutting-edge devices.

The Moscow salesman, who in an interview identified himself only as Oleg, said that most of his orders came from “the new territories”—a reference to Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine—or were “for use by the military.” He said volunteers delivered the equipment to Russian soldiers in Ukraine.

On battlefields from Ukraine to Sudan, Starlink provides immediate and largely secure access to the internet. Besides solving the age-old problem of effective communications between troops and their commanders, Starlink provides a way to control drones and other advanced technologies that have become a critical part of modern warfare.

The proliferation of the easy-to-activate hardware has thrust SpaceX into the messy geopolitics of war. The company has the ability to limit Starlink access by “geofencing,” making the service unavailable in specific countries and locations, as well as through the power to deactivate individual devices.

Russia and China don’t allow the use of Starlink technology because it could undermine state control of information, and due to general suspicions of U.S. technology. Musk has said on X that to the best of his knowledge, no terminals had been sold directly or indirectly to Russia, and that the terminals wouldn’t work inside Russia.

The Wall Street Journal tracked Starlink sales on numerous Russian online retail platforms, including some that link to U.S. sellers on eBay. It also interviewed Russian and Sudanese middlemen and resellers, and followed Russian volunteer groups that deliver SpaceX hardware to the front line.

Anyone who seriously believes Musk doesn’t have the ability to properly restrict these terminals to specific airspace via geofencing is genuinely stupid, and probably a Russian asset. Here is how Russians get access to Starlink, even though President Vladimir Putin’s propaganda would lead you to believe Starlink terminals aren’t authorized for use in Russia: First, smugglers buy Starlink hardware in Middle Eastern countries, like the United Arab Emirates, for example, then activate those terminals for use anywhere in the world — a subscription SpaceX, the company that makes Starlink, sells. Then, those smugglers market the terminals on sites like eBay so that Russians can have the hardware shipped to nearby, Kremlin-friendly countries, sold at a markup. Then, smugglers bring the terminals and receivers over the border as if they were drugs or any other illegal items. “Patriotic” Russians then wheel them over to the front lines, where idiotic Russian soldiers are so stupid that they don’t even camouflage the bright white plastic terminals.

Ukraine, which is currently fighting a brutal war with Russia, also has access to Starlink, provided due to SpaceX’s contractual obligations with the U.S. Defense Department, which requires SpaceX to deploy Starlink hardware to U.S. allies in need, like Taiwan and Ukraine. Granted, Musk neutered Ukraine’s access to these important terminals, which provide internet access in Russian-occupied areas, when needed the most, but the service still remains available there in some capacity due to U.S. contracts. Bloomberg reported Wednesday that the Defense Department pays $23 million for this deal, but the U.S. official who leaked the information to Bloomberg declined to say whether the United States would renew it with Musk or not. This type of smuggling would be concerning to the United States due to these deals, so, in March, House Democrats sent a letter to SpaceX over the illegal import of Starlink terminals by Russia, which aid Putin in controlling drones and commanding troops. Apparently, nothing came of that letter, and just a month later, The Journal reported on the continued illegal use of Starlink terminals in Russia.

Again, only a fool would believe Musk and his company have no clue about the illegal use of these products in Russia — smart people work for SpaceX and upwards of 5,000 satellites roam Earth tracking the position of the terminals in real-time, according to The Journal’s report. Musk has the tools at his disposal to halt Russia’s unlawful use of terminals to destroy civilian buildings in Ukraine and illegally occupy sovereign territory, but he never will, because he himself is a Russian asset parroting propaganda straight from Moscow on X, his social media website. However many pro-Kremlin Republican puppets there are in Congress, however, the United States should exercise its leverage and contracts with SpaceX to force Musk’s firm to comply with U.S. law and disable enemy use of Starlink satellites. The United States has given Musk a free pass on contracts for too long — if it wants to continue doing business with the world’s richest Russian propagandist, it needs to shove him down on his knees and make him beg for the money he wants.