Elon Musk’s plan to bring peace to Ukraine – including the view that Crimea had been wrongly given away to the country – reveals a “warped” understanding of the war that should prevent him going anywhere near Mars, a military historian has said.
In a Twitter poll posted on Monday, the Tesla chief executive proposed Kyiv permanently cede Crimea to Russia, that new referendums be held under UN supervision to determine the fate of Russian-controlled territory, and that Ukraine agree to neutrality.
“This is highly likely to be the outcome in the end – just a question of how many die before then,” Mr Musk tweeted.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the poll received more than 2.6 million votes with close to 60 per cent disagreeing with Mr Musk’s plan.
Military historian Peter Caddick-Adams was almost lost for words when asked for his view on the SpaceX founder’s peace terms.
“The tweet by Elon Musk for Ukraine to remain neutral, that presupposes that in the 21st century this is the Great Power game, and poor little Ukraine in the middle doesn’t get any kind of vote as to its own future,” he told i.
Describing it as more of a business plan, Dr Caddick-Adams said he understood why Mr Musk would take a “logical” approach to end the war in Ukraine, but that’s not how foreign affairs works.
International power politics does not revolve around rationality and logic, but rather on “human emotions and politics, things like patriotism,” he said.
“I worry if this is his approach to planet Earth because, with SpaceX, if this is the way he’s going to run colonies on Mars I think he should not allowed anywhere near space,” Dr Caddick-Adams added.
Mr Musk’s proposal has been met with fierce criticism by Ukrainians, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, who responded with his own Twitter poll, asking: “Which @elonmusk do you like more? One who supports Ukraine (or) one who supports Russia”.
Andriy Melnyk, the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, told Mr Musk “f*** off is my very diplomatic reply to you”.
Normally Mr Musk is widely praised in Ukraine for the role his companies have played in providing internet access to its forces on the battlefield and to its citizens.
SpaceX’s Starlink network of internet-beaming satellites has helped keep Ukraine connected throughout the conflict.
Russia’s piled on the praise for Mr Musk and his plan. “It is very positive that somebody like Elon Musk is looking for a peaceful way out of this situation,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
Mr Musk’s four-point peace plan also includes the provision that water supply to Crimea be assured.
Dr Caddick-Adams said the second point – that Crimea should be formally made part of Russia “as it has been since 1783”, before Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev made a “mistake” in handing it to Ukraine – showed the billionaire did not understand history.
“He’s a great technician and great businessperson and he sees opportunities and goes for it, but he’s completely misreading history,” said the historian.
“And then using the status and power and influence he has to try and push his point of view which, to be perfectly polite but frank, is warped.”
Sergei Moshkin, of the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in Yekaterinburg, Russia, argued that historians do not have “any uniform opinion” about why Crimea was transferred to Ukraine in the 50s.
However, he did link it to the water supply issues in the peninsula, which Mr Musk also alluded to in his tweet.
To tackle the problem, the North Crimean Canal project was launched after the Second World War to build a 400m canal to bring water from the Dnipro River in Ukraine’s Kherson region to Crimea – both were then in the Soviet Unoin.
The construction would come to be a massive undertaking, so Mr Khrushchev decided it would make more economic sense for the peninsula to be transferred to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, as it was known at the time, so it could take responsibility for construction of the Crimean portion of the canal.
The understanding was that it did not matter who Crimea would formally belong to because there was a belief that “the Soviet Union was unbreakable and would exist forever”, said Dr Moshki, who is senior researcher of philosophy and law at the Ural Branch of the academy.
“Hence, it appears that Khrushchev’s decision to transfer Crimea to Ukraine has not been dictated by the international feeling of friendship between peoples,” wrote Dr Moshkin in an article for Baltic Rim Economies.
“Nor by his guilt complex towards the Ukrainian people, and certainly not by the romantic desire to make a luxury gift to his Ukrainian wife, as it was then rumoured.
“The destiny of Crimea in 1954 was determined by a pragmatic and seemingly simple economic decision to build a canal between the two Union republics that were at that time friends.”
The North Crimean Canal was shut down by Ukraine after Russia seized Crimea in 2014. A Russian study in 2015 found that 85 per cent of the water in Crimea came from mainland Ukraine through the canal, of which 72 per cent was used for agriculture, 10 per cent for industry and 18 per cent for drinking water and other public needs.
In its first acts of war, Russian forces blew up a dam that Ukraine had built to cut off Crimea’s primary water supply two days into Russia’s invasion in February this year, and the canal began to fill with water once again.
As part of his plan for peace, Mr Musk suggested “water supply to Crimea (should be) assured”.
Dr Caddick-Adams argued that this was a “non-issue” given that various politicians linked to Mr Zelensky had in the past voiced support for renewing water supply to Crimea on humanitarian grounds, but they were met with a backlash.
“Zelensky still regards Crimea under Russian occupation as part of Ukraine, there are still good patriotic Ukrainians there who shouldn’t suffer,” he said.
“It was an unpopular move, but he’s signalling that we are never going to forget Crimea because we intend to go back.”