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Elon Musk challenges Vladimir Putin to a duel

 SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk is cheered after his company launched NASA astronauts for the first time in May 2020. This week, Musk challenged Russian President Vladimir Putin to a duel over Russia's Ukraine invasion.
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk is cheered after his company launched NASA astronauts for the first time in May 2020. This week, Musk challenged Russian President Vladimir Putin to a duel over Russia's Ukraine invasion. (Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Elon Musk apparently wants to take his support for Ukraine to the next level.

SpaceX has been sending terminals and other gear for its Starlink satellite-internet system to Ukraine, which has been struggling to maintain communications capabilities since being invaded by Russia on Feb. 24. 

And on Monday (March 14), the company's founder and CEO offered a simple way to bring that invasion to an end.

Live updates: Russia's Ukraine invasion and space impacts

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"I hereby challenge Vladimir Putin to single combat. Stakes are Ukraine," Musk tweeted on Monday, spelling out Putin's name and Ukraine in Russian. (Translation provided by Google.)

"Do you agree to this fight?" he asked (in Russian) in another tweet, which tagged @KremlinRussia_E, the official account of the Russian president.

That account has not responded, but one of Musk's recurring Twitter foils did chime in. Dmitry Rogozin, the chief of Russia's space agency Roscosmos, tweeted a passage from "The Tale of the Pope and his Worker Balda" by famed Russian poet Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837).

"You, little devil, are still young/Compete with me weak/It would only be a waste of time/Overtake my brother first," the passage reads (translated from Russian by Google).

"I see you are a tough negotiator! Ok, you can have 10% more pay per view money," Musk replied in another Monday tweet, which featured a (presumably edited) image of a shirtless Putin riding a bear and a picture of Musk playing with a flamethrower.

"He can even bring his bear," Musk said in yet another Monday tweet.

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Musk is no stranger to such tweaking and trolling, and he has sparred with Rogozin in this fashion before. For example, back in April 2014, when Rogozin was Russia's deputy prime minister, he remarked that the United States should use a trampoline to get their astronauts to the International Space Station.

Rogozin was upset about economic sanctions imposed by the United States in the wake of Russia's 2014 invasion and subsequent annexation of Crimea, which had been part of Ukraine. Some of those sanctions targeted the Russian space industry and some targeted individuals, including Rogozin himself. His comment referenced the fact that the U.S. was, at the time, completely dependent on Russian Soyuz vehicles for crewed trips to and from orbit.

That dependence, which began when NASA retired its space shuttle fleet in July 2011, ended in May 2020, when SpaceX sent two NASA astronauts to the space station on a test mission called Demo-2. Shortly after that successful launch, Musk had a comeback for Rogozin: "The trampoline is working!

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.  

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Mike Wall
Mike Wall

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.