A poll by the outspoken billionaire Elon Musk asking Twitter users to weigh in on a plan to end the Ukraine war has sparked a flurry of criticism, including from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The controversial “peace” proposal put forward by the entrepreneur behind Tesla Inc and SpaceX included United Nations-supervised elections in the four Ukrainian regions recently annexed by Russia, and recognising Crimea as Russian territory.
What you need to know about the Russia-Ukraine war
Crimea, which was occupied by Russia in 2014, is strategically important for its access to the Black Sea.
Most nations recognise Crimea as an autonomous region within Ukraine and reject Russia’s annexation of the territory as illegal.
The initial four-point proposal was amended later on Monday in a subsequent tweet asking users if they would support another referendum in Crimea – the last one, which was widely condemned as illigitemate, was held in 2014.
Musk has previously shown solidarity with Ukraine and provided through his company SpaceX equipment for its Starlink internet service, so that the war-torn country could maintain online access to the rest of the world.
But Ukrainians viewed his proposals as a betrayal of his earlier support.
Zelenskyy replied by launching a Twitter poll accusing Musk of contradicting himself.
Andrij Melnyk, Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, had a blunt response to Musk’s initial poll.
“F— off is my very diplomatic reply to you @elonmusk,” he wrote on Twitter.
Musk responded to Zelenskyy in a public tweet late on Monday, saying he still supported Ukraine but feared the consequences of escalating the war.
“This is highly likely to be the outcome in the end – just a question of how many die before then,” Musk said.
“Also worth noting that a possible, albeit unlikely, outcome from this conflict is nuclear war,” he added.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda weighed in on the dispute between Ukraine and the Tesla CEO.
“Dear @elonmusk when someone tries to steal the wheels of your Tesla, it doesn’t make them legal owner of the car or of the wheels. Even though they claim both voted in favour of it. Just saying,” he tweeted.
Musk then sent out a third tweet arguing that Russia would go into “full war mobilisation”, as opposed to the partial mobilisation announced on September 21, if Crimea was at risk.
“Death on both sides will be devastating,” he said.
“Russia has >3 times population of Ukraine, so victory for Ukraine is unlikely in total war. If you care about the people of Ukraine, seek peace,” he said.
One user replied by launching a poll asking: “Who should decide Ukraine’s fate: Ukrainians or Elon Musk?”
The billionaire’s Tweets on Tuesday gained the appraisal of Moscow and its allies.
The Kremlin said it was a “positive step” that Musk was outlining a possible peace deal. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov also told reporters in a conference call that Moscow had always been open to a negotiated end to the conflict.
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Musk “did well” and that he was “worthy of being awarded with a new officer rank”.
“Next post, he’ll say something along the lines of ‘Ukraine is an artificial state’,” he said on his Telegram channel.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces achieved their biggest breakthrough in the country’s south since Russia invaded, pushing across Russian lines on Monday and advancing along the Dnieper river.
Musk is involved in a court battle over the purchase of Twitter, after the social media giant approved his $44bn offer to buy the company.
The world’s richest man said in July that he was terminating the agreement, accusing Twitter of failing to provide information about fake or spam accounts on its platform.