How Elon Musk Became a Geopolitical Chaos Agent

Late last month, Mr. Musk attended a private event in Aspen called The Weekend. Organized partly by the former Google chief executive and government adviser Eric Schmidt, the event brought together American business and political leaders, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, former Vice President Al Gore and the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford.

At lunchtime, under a tent on a golf course, Mr. Musk took the stage for a sweeping conversation with the billionaire businessman David Rubenstein, according to two people who attended the event and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

At the end of the conversation, to the surprise of many in attendance, Mr. Musk proposed a peace plan for the war in Ukraine that would allow Russia to annex Ukrainian land, seeming to align himself with the Kremlin.

The idea outraged many at the event, according to attendees. The next day, Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser to President Biden, gave a video talk at the event and a questioner raised the issue of Mr. Musk’s peace plan. Mr. Sullivan did not comment on Mr. Musk’s remarks at the event, according to a National Security Council spokesperson. Nonetheless, Mr. Musk revealed his plan 10 days later on Twitter. The Kremlin publicly supported the idea.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine and his top aides fiercely rebuked Mr. Musk’s plan. But his shifting positions put them in a bind: Starlink terminals have become a crucial means of communication for the Ukrainian Army.

Mr. Musk did not respond to several requests for comment.

In mid-September, as the army advanced into southern territories previously occupied by Russia, it lost access to Starlink in some areas near the front lines, four people with knowledge of the matter said. Two of them said this was because Mr. Musk had “geofenced” the service so that it was available only in certain areas. It was not clear why the satellite system was not working, and others in Ukraine reported that it was working fine.

Mr. Musk has discussed the matter with both the Ukrainian government and the U.S. government in an effort to determine the locations where the army will have access to Starlink, according to the people. A National Security Council spokesperson said that the council, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control and “officials across the U.S. government have spoken to Starlink and answered questions about U.S. policy like we do with all companies.”