Elon Musk's Challenge To Vladimir Putin Explained

According to Priceonomics, trial by combat hasn't been much of a thing since the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, eccentric entrepreneur and all-around famous rich guy Elon Musk proposed just this very thing. The prize? Settling the controversial Russian invasion of Ukraine. And who would face off for battle in this mano a mano showdown? None other than Musk and Russian President Vladimir Putin himself. Someone somewhere is prepping a pay-per-view special as we speak.

In between running multiple businesses including aerospace company SpaceX and electric car giant Tesla, Musk still found the time to issue his unusual proposition. His challenge came in the form of a tweet, written in both English and Cyrillic letters, commonly used both in Russia and Ukraine, per the New York Post. "I hereby challenge Vladimir Putin to single combat. Stakes are Ukraine," the tweet read. Musk later tagged Putin in one additional tweet. "Do you agree to this fight?," Musk seemed to goad.

Even before issuing his challenge to the Russian president, Musk had some involvement in the conflict which started after Putin decided to invade neighboring Ukraine in February 2022. According to Fortune, Musk announced that SpaceX internet service Starlink had been set up in Ukraine, with the intention of allowing the Ukrainian government officials a more secure means of accessing the internet.

Although it's highly unlikely that Musk and Putin will ever meet on the battlefield, when it comes to wealthy elites settling their disputes through single combat, there's something of a precedent.

Trial by combat was once pretty common

Confrontations like what Elon Musk proposed on social media were once not that unusual. In the Dark Ages, and even into the Renaissance era, it was a way to settle what most often were land disputes among Europe's wealthiest citizens as Priceonomics reports. It wasn't always rich dudes meeting face to face with swords to fight to the death, either. They could instead pick a champion to do their dirty work for them — the richer the patron, the better the champion. Once again, money wins.

The idea being that God would intervene, supporting whichever party was right in the disagreement, and the defeated party would either succumb or ... well, die. Problem solved! Over time, dueling with pistols developed, so as to even the field for those involved in single combat with a physical advantage. (Whether Musk would fight Putin with pistols, sabers, or sci-fi lasers, remains unconfirmed, per Business Insider). 

Another reason for choosing the dueling option to settle a dispute is that it happens in public. Newspapers used to report on dueling challenges and it was a way to quickly get the word about a grievance. In a way, that's kind of how it works today, only with social media now part of the equation ... and the prospect of actual hand-to-hand combat substantially lower.

Although at the time of this writing Putin had yet to respond to Musk's offer, other government officials from Russia and Ukraine weighed in.

Russia's space agency wants a piece of the action

As previously mentioned, Putin himself has not yet responded to Musk's tweet, but the head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin (pictured above), did tweet the American businessman back, saying he's up for his challenge — or at least his brother is. "You, little devil, are still young," Rogozin's tweet said (via the New York Post). From there, Rogozin wasn't done, adding, "Compete with me weakling; it would only be a waste of time. Overtake my brother first." The weight class of Rogozin's brother is unknown. 

Musk and Rogozin had another online run-in just a week earlier when Rogozin said he wouldn't permit Russian rockets to be sold to the United States, and that if the U.S, wanted to get to space, they'd have to "fly on something else like their broomsticks." Musk countered on Twitter by commenting on a video of his company SpaceX's latest Falcon 9 rocket launch with a screenshot of Rogozin's jab and the words "American Broomstick" flanked by two pairs of American flags.

For his part, Ukraine Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov also threw down via Twitter adding a picture of a rocket ship with Putin's face photoshopped. "Send Putin to Jupiter," Fedorov's tweet read. Musk already got involved in the Russia-Ukraine conflict when he offered his SpaceX satellite internet connectivity to Ukraine. Should this frankly absurd proposition to settle what could be the worst European land dispute since World War II come to pass, the winner is anyone's guess (per Foreign Policy).