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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Group of 20 summit in Rome in 2021.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Group of 20 summit in Rome in 2021. (Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg)

(Tribune News Service) — Turkey closed its airspace to Russian jets flying to Syria, a significant shift in Turkish policy aimed at increasing the cost of the war in Ukraine for Vladimir Putin.

Turkey barred all Russian aircraft, including civilian flights carrying troops, from its skies for the first time since Russia intervened in Syria's civil war in 2015 in support of President Bashar al-Assad.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Putin of his decision in a phone call, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was cited as saying by state broadcaster TRT. He didn't specify when the call took place.

Most Russian flights to Syria pass though Turkish airspace, though exact numbers of troops or materiel isn't publicly disclosed. But the move also carries symbolic weight, signaling Turkey's solidarity with fellow NATO members and adding to Turkey's own pressure on Russia for a war-ending deal with Ukraine.

It adds, moreover, another layer to the already complicated relationship between Turkey and Russia.

The nations are in opposing camps in conflicts from Syria to North Africa to the Caucasus, often backing sides at war with each other.

At the same time, tensions between Turkey and the U.S. have risen over Erdogan's decision to buy air defense missiles from Russia. Russian tourists make up the bulk of foreign visitors, bringing in much needed hard currency to Turkey's economy, while Russian companies are building Turkey's only nuclear power plant.

When Russia invaded Ukraine, Ankara joined NATO allies in its condemnation. Turkey has also limited access through the Bosporus strait for Russian naval vessels.

But the Turkish government has refrained from joining sanctions for fear of retribution. Russia meets around half of Turkey's demand for natural gas, giving it huge leverage over the government in Ankara.

The two countries are also locked in a bitter dispute in Syria. Thousands of Turkish soldiers are deployed around the rebel-held Idlib province, vulnerable to attacks by government forces backed by Russia.

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P. Visit bloomberg.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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