The world’s wealthiest man Elon Musk talked to Russian President Vladimir Putin about what it would take to end the war in Ukraine shortly before he publicly proposed something similar to Putin’s outline, Eurasia Group founder Ian Bremmer alleged Tuesday, though Musk denies any conversation took place.
Bremmer wrote in a morning note to clients that Musk told him directly about the conversation with Putin two weeks ago, according to a copy of the email viewed by Forbes and first reported on by Vice.
Putin told Musk Ukraine must minimally accept several conditions, including recognizing Crimea and Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions as Russian territory and committing to neutrality, according to Bremmer, a political scientist and consultant who broke the news of then-President Donald Trump’s secret meeting with Putin in 2017.
Those terms are quite similar to what Musk proposed in a Twitter poll last week: The billionaire called for Ukraine to remain neutral and formally cede Crimea to Russia, and suggested holding United Nations-supervised referenda on whether occupied Ukrainian territories should join Russia, after the Kremlin claimed those territories nearly unanimously voted to join Russia last month.
Musk tweeted the report isn’t true, saying he has “spoken to Putin only once and that was about 18 months ago. The subject matter was space” (the billionaire Tesla and SpaceX CEO did not immediately respond to Forbes’ request for comment).
Ukrainian leadership immediately criticized Musk’s proposal last week, with President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeting a poll of his own asking if individuals prefer a Musk on Russia or Ukraine’s side. Diplomat Andrij Melynk chose not to mince words, telling Musk to “fuck off.” Musk, who Forbes estimates is worth $220 billion, has responded to critics by claiming he still supports Ukraine but wants to avoid further bloodshed or the use of nuclear weapons. Putin has long hinted at a willingness to use nuclear weapons, arguing in a September 30 speech the U.S. set a “precedent” for such attacks during World War II, and President Joe Biden said last week the world would face “Armageddon” if Russia deployed a large-scale nuclear weapon. Russia illegally annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, though Ukraine is in the midst of a counterattack and is seeking to retake the peninsula, and parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions were taken over by Russian-backed separatists starting in 2014. Musk, who says he’s independent politically but has become increasingly associated with the right, breaks from the White House and most politicians on both sides of the aisle in saying Ukraine should relinquish territory within its internationally recognized borders.
Garry Kasparov, a chess grandmaster and Russia emigré who is now chairman of the Human Right Foundation, tweeted: “Musk should stop asking Putin what he wants and instead apply his ingenuity to helping Ukraine and the free world prevent a bloodthirsty dictator from getting what he wants.” Kasparov also asked if Musk would “suggest giving up” Taiwan if Chinese President Xi Jinping “shout[s] enough about nukes?”
Musk actually suggested China formally take control over Taiwan last week, telling the Financial Times he believes Taiwan should become a special administrative zone under Chinese control like Hong Kong and Macau.
Musk’s dip into geopolitics comes at a particularly chaotic time for him. He said last week he’d like to move forward with a $44 billion offer to buy Twitter, after his attempts to scrap the deal drew a lawsuit from the social media company, and his net worth fell more than $25 billion as Tesla shares tanked.