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Russian forces using Musk's Starlink in occupied areas, Ukraine says

Ukrainian servicemen near the frontline town of Bakhmut

KYIV (Reuters) -Russian forces in occupied Ukraine are using Starlink terminals produced by Elon Musk's SpaceX for satellite internet in what is beginning to look like their "systemic" application, Kyiv's main military intelligence agency said on Sunday.

The terminals were rushed in to help Ukraine after Russia's February 2022 invasion and have been vital to Kyiv's battlefield communications. Starlink says it does not do business of any kind with Russia's government or military.

"Cases of the Russian occupiers' use of the given devices have been registered. It is beginning to take on a systemic nature," the Ukrainian defence ministry's Main Directorate of Intelligence (GUR) quoted spokesman Andriy Yusov as saying.

In a statement, the agency said the terminals were being used by units like Russia's 83rd Air Assault Brigade, which is fighting near the embattled towns of Klishchiivka and Andriivka in the partially-occupied eastern region of Donetsk.

The remarks were Ukraine's first official statement about Russia's alleged use of Starlink.

In a post on Sunday made on X, Musk said, "To the best of our knowledge, no Starlinks have been sold directly or indirectly to Russia."

"A number of false news reports claim that SpaceX is selling Starlink terminals to Russia," Musk said in the post on X, which he also owns. "This is categorically false."

Russia's defence ministry did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for comment.

Two Ukrainian government sources told Reuters earlier this week that Russian use of Starlink had been detected in occupied Ukrainian territory. One said they were trying to obtain data on the scale of such use.

The GUR agency said it had intercepted an exchange between two soldiers discussing setting up the terminals. It posted what it said was an audio clip of the exchange on the Telegram messenger by way of evidence.

GUR did not say how it thought the terminals had been obtained by Russian forces - whether for instance they had been procured from abroad or captured from Ukrainian forces.

Starlink said on Feb. 8 that its terminals were not active in Russia and that SpaceX had never sold or marketed the service in Russia, nor shipped equipment to locations in Russia.

In a statement posted on X, Starlink did not say anything about their possible use in occupied areas of Ukraine.

"If SpaceX obtains knowledge that a Starlink terminal is being used by a sanctioned or unauthorized party, we investigate the claim and take actions to deactivate the terminal if confirmed," it said.

(Reporting by Dan Peleschuk and Tom Balmforth, additional reporting by Lewis Krauskopf in New York; editing by Elaine Hardcastle and Mark Heinrich)