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As it happened: Elon Musk challenges Putin to ‘combat’ for Ukraine as Instagram banned in Russia

·4 min read

It has been just over two weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine on the 24 February. Aircraft factories and nuclear power plants have been attacked by Russian forces, with numerous deaths of civilians and soldiers, and reports from Vladimir Putin’s allies that the war is not going according to plan.

While fighting continues on the ground, there is a similar battle happening online. Russia recently banned Facebook and Instagram from the country, other giants have been pulling software, hardware, and services, and cyberattacks are being launched on both sides.

Today, SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk levied a strange challenge to Mr Putin: a fight.

“I hereby challenge Vladimir Putin to single combat,” he tweeted, using the Russian alphabet to write Mr Putin’s name. “Stakes are Ukraine,” he continued, despite having no authority to strike such a bizarre deal.

Key points

Hello and welcome...

14:06 , Andrew Griffin

... to The Independent’s live coverage of the ongoing fallout of Russian’s invasion of Ukraine for the tech industry.

Elon Musk challenges Vladimir Putin to a fight for Ukraine

14:08 , Adam Smith

Elon Musk has seemingly challenged Vladimir Putin to a fight for Ukraine.

“I hereby challenge Vladimir Putin to single combat,” he tweeted, using the Russian alphabet to write Mr Putin’s name.

“Stakes are Ukraine,” he continued, writing the country’s name in its own language.

In a follow-up tweet, Mr Musk then posted a whole message in Russian. “Do you agree to this fight?”, he wrote, tagging the Kremlin’s official English language Twitter account.

Mr Musk then replied to another Twitter user who suggested that the Russian president would easily win any fight.

“If Putin could so easily humiliate the west, then he would accept the challenge,” Mr Musk wrote. “But he will not.”

Starlink could reveal Ukrainian targets to Russia

14:16 , Adam Smith

Mr Musk has lent SpaceX services to Ukraine over the past two weeks - sending Starlink terminals to the country at the request of Russia’s digital minister.

However, it is possible that the internet communication system could be a “high” risk target for Russian forces.

“Important warning: Starlink is the only non-Russian communications system still working in some parts of Ukraine, so probability of being targeted is high,” Mr Musk tweeted on Friday. “Please use with caution,” he added.

Russia bans Facebook and Instagram

15:00 , Adam Smith

Russia, meanwhile, recently took to banning Instagram in the country.

It comes as Meta, formerly Facebook, said that it is changing its hate speech policy for countries involved in the conflict and neighbouring European countries.

The emails said calls for violence against Russian forces were acceptable when the post is clearly talking about the invasion of Ukraine.

“These are temporary measures designed to preserve voice and expression for people who are facing invasion. As always, we are prohibiting calls for violence against Russians outside of the narrow context of the current invasion”, a Meta spokesperson said.

Russia designates Meta an extremist organisation

15:30 , Adam Smith

The designation for the technology giant came from the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation, according to a report from Interfax.

“In accordance with the Federal Law ‘On Countering Extremist Activity’, the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation sent an application to the court to recognize Meta Platforms Inc. as an extremist organization and ban its activities in the territory of the Russian Federation,” the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation said today.

WhatsApp “will not be affected by measures against Meta, since it is a means of communication not posting information”, a source told state-owned agency RIA Novosti, contradicting initial reports.

Instagram’s response to Russia

16:00 , Adam Smith

Instagram has said it is “wrong” for Russia to ban it, but for now has not shared any more information.

“On Monday, Instagram will be blocked in Russia. This decision will cut 80 million in Russia off from one another, and from the rest of the world as ~80% of people in Russia follow an Instagram account outside their country”, social media head Adam Mosseri tweeted.

The message to Instagram users from the regulator Roskomnadzor described the decision to allow calls for violence against Russians as a breach of international law.

“We need to ensure the psychological health of citizens, especially children and adolescents, to protect them from harassment and insults online,” it said, explaining the decision to close down the platform.