The Tesla and SpaceX boss made the remarks during a conversation with Republican senator Ron Johnson on social media platform Twitter/X overnight during discussions with senators JD Vance, Mike Lee, and failed presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy over the Ukraine funding bill.
Their scrutiny of the US support to Ukraine comes as the Democratic-led Senate on Monday set the stage for the final passage of a $95.34bn aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, amid growing doubts about the fate of the legislation in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
The Senate voted 66-33, exceeding a 60-vote margin, to sweep aside the last procedural hurdle and limit debate on the measure to a final 30 hours before a vote on passage that could come on Wednesday.
President Joe Biden has been urging Congress to hurry new aid to Ukraine with Kyiv officials warning of weapons shortages at a time when Russia is pressing ahead with renewed attacks.
Opposing the additional funding for Ukraine, senator Johnson said: “We all have to understand that Vladimir Putin will not lose this war. Losing to Vladimir Putin is existential to Vladimir Putin.”
He added that Ukraine does not have enough manpower. “The average age of a Ukrainian soldier right now is 43 years old…Some of Zelensky’s top aides say that ‘even if the US and its allies deliver all the weapons they have pledged, we don’t have the men to use them’,” he said as he quoted a Times report from November last year.
“The only way this war ends is in a settlement, and every day that the war goes on, more Ukrainians and more Russian conscripts die, more civilians die, and more of Ukraine gets destroyed than is allowed to get built,” said the senator.
Claiming that additional weapon supply to Ukraine only adds to the “stalemate”, Mr Johnson said “as evil of a war criminal as Putin is, he’s not going to lose this war, and our colleagues here just aren’t willing to accept that reality.”
“That’s exactly right,” Mr Musk said as he agreed to the suggestion made by Mr Johnson. “Whenever I raise this point, people accuse me of being some sort of Putin apologist when my companies have probably done more to undermine Russia than anything.”
With an extended war, more Ukrainians die every day, he said, adding that it makes sense to support the country with more ammunition only if they are making more territorial gains.
“If you are going to spend lives, it must be for a purpose. Not just a mile here and mile there.”
Claiming that “there is no way in hell Putin is going to lose,” he said that if the Russian president “backs off, he would be assassinated”.
Mr Musk warned that the person to “take out Putin” is likely to be “more hardcore than Putin”.
This is not the first time that Mr Musk has seemingly suggested that Ukraine should forfeit.
Earlier in October 2022, the billionaire sparked international outrage when he tweeted his proposal to bring peace to Ukraine. The proposal suggested, among other measures, the concession of land to Russia, a red line for most Ukrainians.
“Redo elections of annexed regions under UN supervision. Russia leaves if that is will of the people,” Mr Musk said. “Crimea formally part of Russia, as it has been since 1783 (until Khrushchev’s mistake). Water supply to Crimea assured. Ukraine remains neutral. This is highly likely to be the outcome in the end – just a question of how many die before then. Also worth noting that a possible, albeit unlikely, outcome from this conflict is nuclear war.”
The thread was accompanied by a poll inviting Mr Musk’s followers to indicate whether or not they approved of his ideas: 40.9 per cent of respondents were in favour but 59.1 per cent were opposed.
President Volodymyr Zelensky hit back with a Twitter poll of his own, asking his followers which version of Elon Musk they preferred: the one who supports Ukraine or the one who supports Russia. The pro-Ukraine incarnation of Mr Musk drew 78.8 per cent of the vote.
Mr Musk responded: “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.”
The comments from Tesla boss also come as he faces criticism over his decision to restrict the availability of his Starlink satellite high-speed broadband service to Ukraine.
Ukraine’s military spy agency said on Tuesday Russian forces were buying Starlink satellite internet terminals in “Arab countries” for use on the battlefield.
The defence ministry’s Main Directorate of Intelligence (GUR) released what it said was an audio intercept of two Russian soldiers discussing buying units from Arab providers for around 200,000 roubles ($2,200) each.
Starlink has said it does not do business with Russia or operate on Russian territory. The Kremlin said the terminals were neither certified for use in, nor officially supplied to, Russia, and therefore could not be used.
When Russia first invaded its western neighbour on 24 February 2022, Mr Musk responded to an appeal for help from Ukraine’s vice prime minister Mykhailo Fedorov by generously dispatching 20,000 SpaceX Starlink terminals to the country.
Since then, Mr Putin’s forces have relentlessly targeted Ukraine’s telecommunications infrastructure with missile strikes. This has caused Kyiv to rely on SpaceX’s technology as a source of uninterrupted, independent and secure internet access, enabling lines of communication to remain open with its troops on the frontline of the conflict in the south and east.