Elon Musk has got into a Twitter tussle with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy after the tech billionaire floated a divisive proposal to end Russia’s invasion.
The Tesla chief executive, soon facing a court fight over his attempt to abandon a 44 billion US dollars offer to buy Twitter, argued in a tweet on Monday that to reach peace, Russia should be allowed to keep the Crimea Peninsula that it seized in 2014.
He also said Ukraine should adopt a neutral status, dropping a bid to join Nato following Russia’s partial mobilisation of reservists.
Mr Musk also crossed red lines for Ukraine and its supporters by suggesting that four regions Russia is moving to annex following Kremlin-orchestrated “referendums” denounced by the West as a sham should hold repeat votes organised by the United Nations.
Mr Musk noted that Crimea was part of Russia until it was given to Ukraine under the Soviet Union in the 1950s and said a drawn-out war would not be likely to end in a resounding Ukrainian victory.
These positions are anathema for Mr Zelenskyy, who considers them pro-Kremlin.
The Ukrainian leader has pledged to recover all the terrain conquered in the war and considers Crimea as Ukraine’s to reclaim as well.
Mr Musk also launched a Twitter poll asking whether “the will of the people” should decide if seized regions remained part of Ukraine or became part of Russia.
In a sarcastic response, Mr Zelenskyy posted a Twitter poll of his own asking “Which Elon Musk do you like more?” – “One who supports Ukraine” or “One who supports Russia”.
Mr Musk replied to Mr Zelenskyy that “I still very much support Ukraine, but am convinced that massive escalation of the war will cause great harm to Ukraine and possibly the world”.
“Russia is doing partial mobilisation. They go to full war mobilisation if Crimea is at risk. Death on both sides will be devastating,”
Mr Musk wrote in another tweet.
“Russia has (over) three times population of Ukraine, so victory for Ukraine is unlikely in total war. If you care about the people of Ukraine, seek peace.”
The Kremlin itself chimed in, praising Mr Musk for his proposal but warning that Russia would not backtrack on its move to absorb the Ukrainian regions.
“It’s very positive that such a person as Elon Musk is trying to look for a peaceful settlement,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday.
But he added “as for the referendums, people have voiced their opinion and there could be nothing else”.
Ukraine and the West have said that the hastily organised votes in four occupied regions were clearly rigged to serve Mr Putin’s purpose to try to cement his loosening grip on Ukrainian terrain.
Mr Musk’s ideas seemed to get little support on Twitter, including from Russian chess great and anti-Putin political activist Garry Kasparov, who slammed the plan.
“This is moral idiocy, repetition of Kremlin propaganda, a betrayal of Ukrainian courage and sacrifice, and puts a few minutes browsing Crimea on Wikipedia over the current horrific reality of Putin’s bloody war,” Mr Kasparov tweeted.