• Elon Musk’s foray into the Russia-Ukraine war is being guided by Putin, according to Fiona Hill.
  • The Russia expert told Politico that Putin frequently uses prominent people as intermediaries.
  • “Putin plays the egos of big men, gives them a sense that they can play a role,” Hill said.

Elon Musk’s recent efforts to broker a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine have almost certainly been puppeteered by Vladimir Putin, according to top Russia expert Fiona Hill.

“Putin plays the egos of big men — gives them a sense that they can play a role. But in reality, they’re just direct transmitters of messages from Vladimir Putin,” Hill told Politico this week, noting that the Tesla billionaire has tipped his hand in an obvious display of Putin’s influence.

Earlier this month, Musk tweeted a proposed peace plan he suggested could end the war in Ukraine that parroted Russian demands and echoed Kremlin talking points.

Ian Bremmer, a prominent political analyst, later reported that Musk spoke privately with Putin before drafting his proposition — an allegation that Musk denied.

The SpaceX founder’s first foray into the war came earlier this year when he began donating Starlink satellite internet terminals to Ukraine, providing a key source of communication for the country’s forces amid the ongoing fight.

But Musk in recent weeks has hinted at a more sympathetic tilt toward Russia.

While it was his October 3 tweets that garnered buzz around the globe, Musk was publicly evoking Putin’s desires even earlier.

Hill cited Musk’s September appearance at a conference in Aspen, during which he suggested a similar path forward through the war, encouraging Ukraine to “seek peace” by allowing Crimea — a territory which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014 — to be recognized as Russian.

Musk also reportedly told attendees that the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in Ukraine ought to be up for grabs. Russia annexed four occupied Ukrainian territories just days later, including the two mentioned by Musk.

Prior to the annexation, Musk argued at the conference that Kherson and Zaporizhzhia ought to remain up for negotiation in order to provide Crimea with water supplies. Hill explained in the Monday interview with Politico that the two territories essentially control all water supplies into Crimea, a dry peninsula lacking in rivers.

“It’s unlikely Elon Musk knows about this himself. The reference to water is so specific that this clearly is a message from Putin,” she told the outlet.

Musk’s sudden emergence as an apparent player in foreign affairs may seem curious, but it’s actually a “classic Putin play,” Hill said.

“Putin does this frequently,” she told Politico. “He uses prominent people as intermediaries to feel out the general political environment, to basically test how people are going to react to ideas.”

It’s noteworthy that Putin’s most recent intermediary is Elon Musk — an American tech billionaire — especially given Musk’s reverence throughout Russia.

“Elon Musk has enormous leverage as well as incredible prominence,” Hill said.

Musk did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

But powerful men with big egos are the exact sort of pawns that Putin has experience manipulating, according to Simon Miles, an assistant professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and a historian of the Soviet Union and US-Soviet relations.

“A lot of Vladimir Putin’s political success is predicated on managing highly egotistical gajillionaires,” he told Insider in an interview last week, referencing Russia’s oligarchs.

Musk’s involvement in the war is ultimately emblematic of Putin’s effort to “short-circuit” the diplomatic process, Hill said.

“He wants to lay out his terms and see how many people are going to pick them up,” she added. “All of this is an effort to get Americans to take themselves out of the war and hand over Ukraine and Ukrainian territory to Russia.”

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