Earlier this year, SpaceX and Tesla boss Elon Musk announced that he planned to buy Twitter – describing the social networking site as “a digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated”.

But the billionaire later cooled on the idea, with the official explanation being that he needed more accurate figures on how many real human users were signed up to Twitter, and how many accounts were in fact run by automated bots.

But a recently-revealed text message suggests the tycoon’s concerns weren’t about bots – but World War Three.

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On May 8, Musk texted Michael Grimes, head of global technology investment banking for top financial institution Morgan Stanley.

"Let's slow down just a few days,” he wrote. “Putin's speech tomorrow is really important. It won't make sense to buy Twitter if we're heading into World War III.”

The text emerged, reports Ars Technica, as part of a legal battle between Musk and the corporation he once planned to buy, with his lawyer Alex Spiro responding to complaints that Musk was responsible for the sale falling through by saying “any businessman would be anxious about the impact of a potential war on the stock market”.

Lawyers for Twitter are arguing that Musk had no right to renege on his agreement to purchase the company and that Musk had decided to pull out because "the value of Musk's stake in Tesla, the anchor of his personal wealth, has declined by more than $100billion from its November 2021 peak.”

Before the deal fell through, Musk had lined up a reported $46.5billion in financing. Twitter’s stock price soared by almost 6% when the deal was announced but then fell back dramatically on the news that the richest man in the world was getting cold feet.

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While many experts say the risk of a global conflict remains relatively low despite the war in Ukraine and tensions over Taiwan, some analysts say World War Three has already started.

The world is “just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation”, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in August.

Meanwhile, the UK’s national security adviser Stephen Lovegrove warns a “breakdown of communication” had dramatically increased the risk of nuclear warfare between the West and China or Russia.

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While there are concerns about about a showdown with China or Iran, the most pressing danger remains Vladimir Putin’s desire for a new Russian empire.

Peter Dickinson from the Atlantic Council wrote in June this year that there was an “extensive” list of countries that “could potentially become targets” of Putin’s plan to rebuild the Soviet empire.

“If this sounds far-fetched,” he wrote, “remember that almost nobody in Ukraine believed a Russian invasion was even remotely possible until it actually happened.”

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