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US House Democrats probe alleged Starlink use by Russia

A Starlink satellite internet system is set up near the frontline town of Bakhmut

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House Democrats are investigating SpaceX over whether it was doing enough to prevent Russia from utilizing Starlink satellite internet service as part of Moscow's ongoing war against Ukraine, two lawmakers said on Thursday.

In a letter to the company, the two Democrats said Ukrainian intelligence officials’ allegations that Russian military forces used Starlink's terminals in eastern Ukraine were alarming and that the deployment could violate U.S. sanctions.

Russia’s alleged "misuse of Starlink terminals outside Russia's internationally recognized borders poses a serious threat to Ukraine’s security, Ukrainian lives, and U.S. national security," Representatives Jamie Raskin and Robert Garcia wrote in the letter to SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell.

The Kremlin has denied that its troops use Starlink, a subsidiary of Elon Musk-owned SpaceX.

Representatives for SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment on the letter, first reported by The Washington Post.

Starlink terminals provide high speed internet connection and were rushed in to help Ukraine after Russia's February 2022 invasion, proving vital to Kyiv's battlefield communications.

In February, Ukrainian officials alleged that Russia obtained the terminals from Arab countries and has deployed them in areas it controls in Ukraine. Kiev has asked SpaceX to prevent Moscow from using them in occupied areas.

Starlink has said that it does not do business of any kind with Russia's government or military, and Musk in a post on X last month said that reports that the company was selling terminals to Russia were false.

The U.S. lawmakers' inquiry comes as Western nations scramble to help Ukraine with more arms and financing after Kyiv's failed counteroffensive last summer and after Russian forces regained the initiative on the battlefield.

Ukraine is preparing for counter-offensive actions, more than two years after Russian troops invaded the neighboring former Soviet state.

Kiev has pleaded for more aid, but a vital U.S. assistance package has been stalled by Republicans in Congress at the behest of former Republican President Donald Trump, who is making a third bid for the White House and has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Democratic U.S. President Joe Biden plans to renew his request for a $95 billion aid package for weapons for Ukraine in his State of the Union speech Thursday night.

In their letter, dated Wednesday, the Democratic lawmakers asked SpaceX to respond by March 20.

(Additional reporting by Makini Brice and Akash Sriram; writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)