Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk on Monday sparked controversy by sharing several polls on Twitter asking his followers to weigh in on his suggestions for achieving “Ukraine-Russia peace.”
Musk listed four provisions under which the two countries could potentially reach an agreement that would see the end of the conflict that Russian President Vladimir Putin provoked when he invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Musk suggested redoing “elections” in the four Ukraine regions Putin annexed “under U.N. supervision,” adding that Russia would then exit the territories “if that is will of the people.”
The so-called elections Musk referred to have been described as “sham” referendums the Kremlin held in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, and have been widely condemned by Ukrainian officials and the West.
Musk’s proposal also stated that Crimea, the Ukraine territory that Putin illegally annexed in 2014, become “formally part of Russia, as it has been since 1783 (until Kruschchev’s mistake.)”
Former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev “gifted” the Crimea Peninsula to Ukraine in 1954, according to NPR.
Years later, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Ukraine, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S. signed the Budapest Memorandum in 1994 agreeing “to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine” and “to refrain from the threat or use of force” against it, according to The Brookings Institution, a think tank based in Washington, D.C.
Putin defied that agreement when he went ahead with Crimea’s annexation.
The remaining elements of Musk’s proposal included guaranteeing water supply to Crimea, which Ukrainian officials curtailed after the annexation by blocking water from Ukraine’s Dnipro River to the peninsula. The water supply seems to have been restored following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.
Finally, Musk proposed Ukraine maintain its neutrality, which could be implied as pushing for the country to abandon its application to be a member of the NATO military alliance. Ukraine fast-tracked its membership bid Friday and has already earned the backing of some members of the alliance.
“This is highly likely to be the outcome in the end — just a question of how many die before then,” Musk added.
He continued: “Also worth noting that a possible, albeit unlikely, outcome from this conflict is nuclear war.”
Putin has stepped up his warnings in recent weeks, vowing to protect the four annexed regions by “all available means,” which was interpreted as a threat of using nuclear weapons.
U.S. officials have stressed that while Putin’s nuclear threats are unlikely to materialize for the moment, they should be taken seriously.
Following criticism of his earlier poll, Musk went on to release a further survey, asking his followers whether “the people who live in the Donbas & Crimea should decide whether they’re part of Russia or Ukraine.”
Musk’s tweets prompted the response of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who posted a poll of his own: “Which @elonmusk do you like more?” with two possible answers: “one who supports Ukraine” or “one who supports Russia.”
To which Musk responded that he backs Ukraine, but is “convinced that massive escalation of the war will cause great harm to Ukraine and possibly the world.”
Apart from Zelenskyy, Musk earned the scorn of other world leaders, including the Lithuanian president.
“Dear @elonmusk, when someone tries to steal the wheels of your Tesla, it doesn’t make them legal owner of the car or of the wheels. Even though they claim both voted in favor of it. Just saying,” Gitanas Nausėda wrote on Twitter.
Andrij Melnyk, the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, also had stark words for the billionaire’s first Ukraine-Russia poll.
“Fuck off is my very diplomatic reply to you,” Melnyk wrote on Twitter.
Musk also said his company SpaceX has spent about $80 million to operate Starlink — a satellite constellation that delivers internet access — in Ukraine, which has also been used in the field to keep Ukrainian forces connected, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Kyiv Post, a Ukrainian news organization, recognized Musk’s contribution through Starlink, before adding that it would “be so very wonderful if you were to carry out votes on things that you know about.”
“We don’t carry out votes on apartheid and Nelson Mandela,” it said.
Musk is currently embroiled in a legal battle with Twitter that will determine whether he has to carry through with his initial bid to buy the company for $44 billion.