Billionaires in World Affairs: Should Elon Musk Have a Seat at the Table?

Jordan considers whether Elon Musk has any say in the diplomatics surrounding the Russia-Ukraine War.

No one is a stranger to the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia, apparently least of all Elon Musk. He seemed to make that all too clear in early October when he tweeted his proposed “peace plan” for the current situation in Eastern Europe.

Russia shocked much of the world when it invaded its western neighbor, Ukraine, back in February 2022. However, what Russia’s President Vladimir Putin thought would be a swift defeat has proceeded into a never-ending war between two post-Soviet states. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has made strides to keep Russian forces at bay despite a large number of Ukrainians fleeing for safer lands.

 

Credit: Bloomberg

In his tweet, the Tesla CEO suggests UN-supervised elections in the contested regions between Ukraine and Russia. Musk then assumes, or perhaps advises, that Russia should leave “if that is will of the people.” But this solution is too ivory tower for world affairs. The four annexed regions that Moscow now claims as part of Russia are primarily populated with supporters of the Russian invasion, with those who supported Ukraine having fled with Russian encroachment. Even if the results of this UN-supervised elections favoured remaining a part of Ukraine, the UN would have no way to enforce such a decision. Furthermore, it seems doubtful that the Kremlin will listen to these election results.

Musk’s most disputed suggestion was that Crimea be officially recognized as a part of Russia. Crimea was annexed by Russia back in 2014, an action that was not well received by the United Nations. However, this proposition seems entirely impractical if Ukraine continues to hold off Russia. If Ukraine has the opportunity to gain more territory, it is unlikely that a settlement will come anytime soon.

 

Credit: AP News

His last two points ask that the water supply to Crimea is assured and that Ukraine remain neutral. The former is a sensible need. Crimea lost a significant water source when Ukraine dammed its North Crimea Canal after the 2014 annexation. As for the latter, Ukraine’s neutrality remains an unpredictable and uncertain solution for peace.

Musk’s suggestions are then followed by a poll to gauge the users’ responses to his plan the results of which are largely negative. Yet, Twitter users seem to view Elon Musk’s plan more positively than the diplomatic and political community do.

President Zelenskiy responded by asking his audience on twitter which Elon Musk they preferred: one that supported Ukraine or one that supported Russia. The Ukraine Ambassador to Germany, Andrij Melnyk, had a much more forthright response: “Fuck off is my very diplomatic reply to you @elonmusk.”

Up until 3rd October, the billionaire had been well-liked and respected in Ukraine after his offer to allow the Ukrainian army to use his Starlink satellite internet service. Musk even proposes solutions to the rising tensions between Taiwan and China in a recent interview with the Financial Times. However, his recent tweet has many wondering why Musk seems so interested in diplomacy and what his role is or should be on the world stage. He is a billionaire using his resources to aid Ukrainians in the fight against an oppressive regime – in the Ukrainian-Russian war he has clearly picked a side. Yet, what if he were to take sides in a war where the lines (especially in the case of public opinion) were less definitive?

 

Credit: PBS

Elon Musk is first and foremost a businessman. A role that should say enough about his future in diplomacy. Musk’s priorities are that of big business. His goals are to maximize his profits, create a positive brand image for his company, and continue to expand his business ventures. His interests are tied too closely to profit to have any hope of a future in diplomatic affairs.

It’s not like Musk is on his way to single-handedly ending the war in Ukraine, nor is he looking for a spot in the United Nations. Yet, it is worrisome that a man with so much sway thinks he has something to contribute to policy. While the billionaire has aided Ukraine with his technology and resources, it seems to me that he should steer clear of a seat at the negotiating table.

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