President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine on Wednesday invited Elon Musk to visit Ukraine to see the damage done to the country by Russian forces, saying that such a visit could help the billionaire understand the situation before making pronouncements about it.
Mr. Zelensky’s comments, made via video link to The New York Times’ DealBook Summit, were an implicit rebuke of Mr. Musk, the entrepreneur who last month proposed a peace plan for Ukraine that included ceding territory to Russia.
“If you want to understand what Russia has done here, come to Ukraine and you will see this with your own eyes,” Mr. Zelensky said. “After that, you will tell us how to end this war, who started and when we can end it.”
SpaceX, which Mr. Musk owns, funds the operation of the Starlink internet service in Ukraine, where it has become a digital lifeline for soldiers and civilians amid Russian attacks on the country’s energy infrastructure.
Mr. Musk backed off a threat in October to withdraw funding for the service in Ukraine. “The hell with it,” he wrote on Twitter. He added that “even though Starlink is still losing money” and “other companies are getting billions” in tax dollars, “we’ll just keep funding” the Ukrainian service.
Mr. Musk’s wealth and prominence have given him a prominent voice in geopolitics, and the Kremlin welcomed his proposal. Mr. Zelensky posted a Twitter poll asking, “Which Elon Musk do you like more: one who supports Ukraine, or one who supports Russia?” Mr. Musk later said in a tweet that he supported Ukraine.
During the interview with Andrew Ross Sorkin of The Times, the video link cut out, and when it resumed, Mr. Zelensky joked that Mr. Musk might have somehow cut the connection.
Mr. Zelensky said that Ukrainians were thankful for U.S. assistance, which he stressed had been bipartisan. Any financial calculation of the war’s cost did not take into account the value of lives lost and damaged, he said.
“Our people are fighting for our shared values, for freedom and democracy, not just in Ukraine but in the whole world,” he said. “If Ukraine does not stand through this war, the war will spread to other territories.”
Mr. Zelensky restated Ukraine’s position that only two things could bring the war to an end: a victory by Ukraine or a decision by Moscow to withdraw.
“It may happen that they only decide to end the war if they feel they are weak, they are isolated and they don’t have any partners,” he said.