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A Recent History of U.S. Sanctions on Russia

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infographic listing U.S. sanctions on Russia

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A Recent History of U.S. Sanctions Against Russia

When a direct military confrontation is off the table, how should countries respond to acts of foreign aggression?

One tactic is sanctioning, which applies economic restrictions on a country’s government, businesses, and even individual citizens. In theory, these penalties create enough impact to dissuade further hostility.

Today, the U.S. maintains more sanctions than any other country, and one of its most comprehensive programs is aimed at Russia. To learn more, we’ve compiled an overview of these sanctions using data from the Congressional Research Service and U.S. Treasury.

Sanctions by Catalyst Event

Sanctions are often introduced after a President issues an executive order (EO) that declares a national emergency. This provides special powers to regulate commerce with an aggressor nation.

Our starting point will be Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine, as this is where a majority of ongoing sanctions have originated.

Catalyst: 2014 Ukraine Invasion

On March 18, 2014, Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. This was denounced by the U.S. and its allies, leading them to impose wide-reaching sanctions. President Obama’s EOs are listed below.

Executive order (EO)Date of sanctionsPurpose
EO 13660March 2014Targets those responsible for undermining Ukraine’s democracy
EO 13661March 2014Targets Russian officials operating in the arms sector
EO 13662March 2014Targets those operating in Russia’s financial, energy, and defense sectors
EO 13685December 2014Prohibits U.S. business in occupied Crimea

Altogether, these sanctions affect 480 entities (includes businesses and government agencies), 253 individuals, 7 vessels, and 3 aircraft.

Sanctions against ships and planes may seem odd, but these assets are often owned by sanctioned entities. For example, in February 2022, France seized a cargo ship belonging to a sanctioned Russian bank.

Catalyst: U.S. Election Interference

The Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations have all imposed sanctions against Russia for its malicious cyber activities.

Executive order (EO)Date of sanctionsPurpose
EO 13757December 2016Targets those who aim to interfere
with the election process 
EO 13848September 2018Targets those that have engaged in foreign
interference of a U.S. election
EO 13849September 2018Expands the scope of previous sanctions
EO 14024April 2021Targets those engaged in malicious cyber activities
on behalf of the Russian government

Altogether, these sanctions affect 106 entites, 136 individuals, 6 aircraft, and 2 vessels. A critical target is the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian company notorious for its online influence operations.

Prior to the 2016 election, 3,000 IRA-sponsored ads reached up to 10 million Americans on Facebook. This problem escalated in the run-up to the 2020 election, with 140 million Americans being exposed to propaganda on a monthly basis.

Catalyst: Various Geopolitical Dealings

The U.S. maintains various sanctions designed to counteract Russian influence in Syria, Venezuela, and North Korea.

Executive order (EO)Date of sanctions*Purpose
EO 13582January 2018,
November 2018,
September 2019
Targets those who provide material support
to the government of Syria
EO 13850March 2019,
March 2020,
January 2021
Targets financial institutions providing support
to the government of Venezuela
EO 13810August 2018,
September 2018
Targets those who engage in significant
transactions with North Korea
EO 13382June 2019,
January 2022
Targets those who contribute to the proliferation
of weapons of mass destruction
EO 13722November 2020Targets those who trade raw materials or software
with the government of North Korea

*These are recent sanctions pursuant to EOs that were issued many years prior. For example, EO 13582 was introduced in August 2011.

These sanctions impact 23 entities, 17 individuals, and 7 vessels. Specific entities include Rosoboronexport, a state-owned arms exporter which was sanctioned for supplying the Syrian government.

As of December 2020, Syria’s government was responsible for the deaths of 156,329 people (civilians and combatants) in the civil war.

Catalyst: Chemical Poisonings of Individuals

The Russian government has been accused of poisoning two individuals in recent years.

The first incident involved Sergei Skripal, a former Russian intelligence officer who was allegedly poisoned in March 2018 on UK soil. The second, Alexei Navalny, a Russian opposition leader, was allegedly poisoned in August 2020.

The Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 (CBW Act) allows sanctions against foreign governments that use chemical weapons. Nine individuals and five entities were sanctioned as a result of the two cases.

Catalyst: 2022 Ukraine Invasion

The U.S. has introduced many more sanctions in response to Russia’s latest invasion of Ukraine.

EO 14024, which was issued in February 2022, targets Russia’s major financial institutions and their subsidiaries (83 entities in total). Included in this list are the country’s two largest banks, Sberbank and VTB Bank. Together, they hold more than half of all Russian banking assets.

Also targeted are 13 private and state-owned companies deemed to be critical to the Russian economy. Included in this 13 are Rostelecom, Russia’s largest digital services provider, and Alrosa, the world’s largest diamond mining company.

Do Sanctions Work?

Proving that a sanction was solely responsible for an outcome is impossible, though there have been successes in the past. For example, many agree that sanctions played an important role in ending Libya’s weapons of mass destruction programs.

Critics of sanctions argue that imposing economic distress on a country can lead to unintended consequences. One of these is a shift away from the U.S. financial system.

There is no alternative to the dollar and no export market as attractive as the United States. But if Washington continues to force other nations to go along with policies that they consider both illegal and unwise … they are likely to shift away from the United States’ economy and financial system.
Jacob J. Lew, Former Secretary of the Treasury

In other words, sanctions can create an impact as long as the U.S. dollar continues to reign supreme.

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War

Interactive: Comparing Military Spend Around the World

Which countries have the highest military spend relative to their economy? This visual breaks down the amount spent in each country by GDP.

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A map showing countries' military spend as a percentage of their gross domestic product.

Comparing Military Spend Around the World

One of the easiest ways to identify a nation’s priorities is by tracking its expenditures, and military spend is no different.

Usually spending is measured, and ranked, in absolute amounts. For example, countries around the world collectively spent $2.1 trillion on their militaries in 2021, with the most coming from the U.S. ($800 billion), China ($293 billion), and India ($77 billion).

But these eye-popping figures are best understood in the context of each country’s economy. Using data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Varun Jain has visualized 158 countries’ military expenditures, both as a percentage of their total GDP as well as in average per-capita spend.

Countries’ Military Spend as a Percentage of their Economy

To begin, Jain identified three categories of military expenditure as a percent of GDP, using the five-year (2018‒2022) average for more consistent data:

Military Spend% of GDPCountries
HighAbove 5%7
Medium2‒5%44
LowBelow 2%107

Under this categorization, the stand outs are the countries spending an outsized amount of their economic output on military, rather than the highest total spenders in absolute terms.

At the top of the table is Ukraine, which has earmarked a staggering average of 9.46% of its total economic output on defense over the past five years. That’s well ahead of second-place Saudi Arabia, which is slightly above 8%.

In Ukraine’s case, its high ranking shows how quickly priorities can change. From 2018 to 2021, the country spent 3.2-3.8% of its GDP on its military, but the outbreak of war with Russia saw its expenditures jump to one-third of economic output.

Other countries from the Middle East and North Africa follow in this tier, with Oman third at 8.11% and Qatar fourth with 5.88%. Rounding out the top seven high spenders are Algeria, Kuwait, and Israel.

RankCountryMilitary Spend% of GDP
1🇺🇦 UkraineHigh9.46%
2🇸🇦 Saudi ArabiaHigh8.19%
3🇴🇲 OmanHigh8.11%
4🇶🇦 QatarHigh5.88%
5🇩🇿 AlgeriaHigh5.70%
6🇰🇼 KuwaitHigh5.66%
7🇮🇱 IsraelHigh5.09%
8🇯🇴 JordanMedium4.81%
9🇦🇲 ArmeniaMedium4.53%
10🇦🇿 AzerbaijanMedium4.53%
11🇱🇧 LebanonMedium4.01%
12🇷🇺 RussiaMedium3.98%
13🇧🇭 BahrainMedium3.79%
14🇵🇰 PakistanMedium3.75%
15🇲🇦 MoroccoMedium3.72%
16🇺🇿 UzbekistanMedium3.56%
17🇺🇸 U.S.Medium3.48%
18🇨🇴 ColombiaMedium3.24%
19🇬🇷 GreeceMedium3.15%
20🇳🇦 NamibiaMedium3.09%
21🇧🇳 BruneiMedium3.09%
22🇸🇸 South SudanMedium3.05%
23🇹🇬 TogoMedium3.03%
24🇲🇱 MaliMedium2.90%
25🇨🇺 CubaMedium2.88%
26🇸🇬 SingaporeMedium2.86%
27🇧🇼 BotswanaMedium2.86%
28🇲🇲 MyanmarMedium2.76%
29🇧🇫 Burkina FasoMedium2.70%
30🇮🇶 IraqMedium2.69%
31🇰🇷 South KoreaMedium2.69%
32🇨🇬 Republic of CongoMedium2.68%
33🇹🇩 ChadMedium2.66%
34🇮🇳 IndiaMedium2.58%
35🇹🇳 TunisiaMedium2.58%
36🇪🇨 EcuadorMedium2.34%
37🇮🇷 IranMedium2.32%
38🇻🇳 Viet NamMedium2.28%
39🇰🇭 CambodiaMedium2.26%
40🇲🇷 MauritaniaMedium2.24%
41🇳🇪 NigerMedium2.21%
42🇧🇮 BurundiMedium2.21%
43🇹🇷 TurkeyMedium2.19%
44🇵🇱 PolandMedium2.17%
45🇱🇻 LatviaMedium2.14%
46🇱🇹 LithuaniaMedium2.13%
47🇪🇪 EstoniaMedium2.13%
48🇬🇧 United KingdomMedium2.12%
49🇺🇾 UruguayMedium2.11%
50🇷🇸 SerbiaMedium2.06%
51🇺🇬 UgandaMedium2.02%
52🇭🇷 CroatiaLow1.97%
53🇦🇺 AustraliaLow1.93%
54🇨🇱 ChileLow1.92%
55🇫🇷 FranceLow1.91%
56🇨🇾 CyprusLow1.90%
57🇷🇴 RomaniaLow1.87%
58🇧🇬 BulgariaLow1.85%
59🇸🇿 EswatiniLow1.82%
60🇳🇴 NorwayLow1.81%
61🇨🇫 Central African RepublicLow1.78%
62🇱🇰 Sri LankaLow1.77%
63🇵🇹 PortugalLow1.77%
64🇹🇼 TaiwanLow1.76%
65🇨🇳 ChinaLow1.72%
66🇬🇪 GeorgiaLow1.71%
67🇸🇰 SlovakiaLow1.67%
68🇬🇼 Guinea-BissauLow1.65%
69🇰🇬 KyrgyzstanLow1.62%
70🇬🇳 GuineaLow1.61%
71🇫🇮 FinlandLow1.60%
72🇸🇳 SenegalLow1.58%
73🇭🇳 HondurasLow1.56%
74🇬🇦 GabonLow1.56%
75🇲🇿 MozambiqueLow1.56%
76🇱🇸 LesothoLow1.56%
77🇲🇪 MontenegroLow1.54%
78🇫🇯 FijiLow1.54%
79🇯🇲 JamaicaLow1.49%
80🇦🇴 AngolaLow1.48%
81🇮🇹 ItalyLow1.48%
82🇭🇺 HungaryLow1.48%
83🇧🇴 BoliviaLow1.46%
84🇸🇨 SeychellesLow1.43%
85🇳🇱 NetherlandsLow1.41%
86🇸🇩 SudanLow1.39%
87🇷🇼 RwandaLow1.39%
88🇳🇵 NepalLow1.36%
89🇩🇰 DenmarkLow1.36%
90🇦🇱 AlbaniaLow1.34%
91🇪🇸 SpainLow1.34%
92🇹🇭 ThailandLow1.33%
93🇦🇫 AfghanistanLow1.33%
94🇳🇿 New ZealandLow1.32%
95🇨🇦 CanadaLow1.32%
96🇩🇪 GermanyLow1.31%
97🇲🇰 North MacedoniaLow1.30%
98🇧🇷 BrazilLow1.29%
99🇧🇿 BelizeLow1.28%
100🇸🇻 El SalvadorLow1.28%
101🇧🇩 BangladeshLow1.26%
102🇿🇲 ZambiaLow1.25%
103🇬🇶 Equatorial GuineaLow1.24%
104🇬🇾 GuyanaLow1.22%
105🇨🇮 Cote d'IvoireLow1.22%
106🇪🇬 EgyptLow1.20%
107🇵🇪 PeruLow1.20%
108🇧🇾 BelarusLow1.18%
109🇸🇪 SwedenLow1.17%
110🇰🇪 KenyaLow1.13%
111🇸🇮 SloveniaLow1.10%
112🇹🇱 Timor LesteLow1.08%
113🇹🇿 TanzaniaLow1.05%
114🇨🇲 CameroonLow1.04%
115🇹🇯 TajikistanLow1.03%
116🇯🇵 JapanLow1.03%
117🇧🇪 BelgiumLow1.02%
118🇱🇷 LiberiaLow1.00%
119🇲🇾 MalaysiaLow0.98%
120🇵🇭 PhilippinesLow0.96%
121🇵🇾 ParaguayLow0.95%
122🇽🇰 KosovoLow0.95%
123🇿🇦 South AfricaLow0.94%
124🇲🇼 MalawiLow0.92%
125🇧🇦 Bosnia and HerzegovinaLow0.84%
126🇰🇿 KazakhstanLow0.83%
127🇦🇹 AustriaLow0.78%
128🇬🇲 GambiaLow0.76%
129🇹🇹 Trinidad & TobagoLow0.75%
130🇮🇩 IndonesiaLow0.74%
131🇨🇭 SwitzerlandLow0.73%
132🇨🇿 Czech RepublicLow0.71%
133🇩🇴 Dominican RepublicLow0.70%
134🇲🇳 MongoliaLow0.69%
135🇲🇬 MadagascarLow0.68%
136🇨🇩 Dem. Rep. of CongoLow0.64%
137🇳🇬 NigeriaLow0.64%
138🇪🇹 EthiopiaLow0.64%
139🇸🇱 Sierra LeoneLow0.64%
140🇦🇷 ArgentinaLow0.63%
141🇱🇺 LuxembourgLow0.61%
142🇲🇽 MexicoLow0.61%
143🇳🇮 NicaraguaLow0.60%
144🇨🇻 Cape VerdeLow0.54%
145🇧🇯 BeninLow0.54%
146🇲🇹 MaltaLow0.48%
147🇬🇹 GuatemalaLow0.45%
148🇬🇭 GhanaLow0.43%
149🇵🇬 Papua New GuineaLow0.38%
150🇲🇩 MoldovaLow0.36%
151🇮🇪 IrelandLow0.27%
152🇿🇼 ZimbabweLow0.26%
153🇻🇪 VenezuelaLow0.20%
154🇭🇹 HaitiLow0.17%
155🇲🇺 MauritiusLow0.16%
156🇨🇷 Costa RicaLow0.00%
157🇮🇸 IcelandLow0.00%
158🇵🇦 PanamaLow0.00%

The medium group consists of 44 countries and is led by four nations (Jordan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Lebanon) that all spend more than 4% of their GDP on their militaries. Other familiar countries known to have large military budgets, like Russia, Pakistan, the U.S., India and the UK, are also in this category.

The low spend group has a total of 107 countries, but also contains some surprises. For example, China, France, and Germany—all in the top 10 countries by absolute military spend—actually have similar amounts of military spend as a percent of GDP as Georgia, Cyprus, and North Macedonia respectively.

At the bottom of the table are countries with either low military importance, or strange technicalities. For example, Mauritius is one of the countries with the lowest military budgets because it doesn’t officially have a standing military, instead relying on two paramilitary forces (a special mobile force and a Coast Guard).

Similarly, Iceland allocates 0% of its GDP towards military spending. In place of a standing army, the country maintains a specialized peacekeeping force, a substantial Coast Guard, and relies on security alliances within NATO, of which it is a member and provides financial support to.

Ranking Defense Spending Per Capita

While the measure above equalizes military spend on economic strength, per-capita military spending shows how much countries allocate while accounting for population size.

On a per-capita basis (again using a five-year average), Qatar leads the ranks with a per-capita spend of $4,564, well-ahead of Israel at $2,535, and Saudi Arabia at $1,928.

RankCountryPer Capita Spend ($)
1🇶🇦 Qatar$4,564
2🇮🇱 Israel$2,535
3🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia$1,928
4🇸🇬 Singapore$1,837
5🇰🇼 Kuwait$1,815
6🇺🇸 U.S.$1,815
7🇳🇴 Norway$1,438
8🇴🇲 Oman$1,254
9🇦🇺 Australia$1,131
10🇧🇳 Brunei$959
11🇬🇧 UK$913
12🇰🇷 South Korea$894
13🇧🇭 Bahrain$863
14🇩🇰 Denmark$861
15🇫🇷 France$811
16🇫🇮 Finland$801
17🇳🇱 Netherlands$765
18🇱🇺 Luxembourg$694
19🇸🇪 Sweden$662
20🇨🇭 Switzerland$647
21🇨🇦 Canada$645
22🇬🇷 Greece$629
23🇩🇪 Germany$623
24🇳🇿 New Zealand$610
25🇪🇪 Estonia$535
26🇹🇼 Taiwan$495
27🇮🇹 Italy$494
28🇧🇪 Belgium$487
29🇷🇺 Russia$467
30🇱🇹 Lithuania$463
31🇵🇹 Portugal$417
32🇱🇻 Latvia$405
33🇨🇾 Cyprus$399
34🇯🇵 Japan$398
35🇪🇸 Spain$395
36🇦🇹 Austria$393
37🇵🇱 Poland$359
38🇺🇾 Uruguay$354
39🇸🇰 Slovakia$334
40🇱🇧 Lebanon$334
41🇸🇮 Slovenia$302
42🇺🇦 Ukraine$302
43🇭🇷 Croatia$294
44🇨🇱 Chile$292
45🇷🇴 Romania$258
46🇭🇺 Hungary$248
47🇮🇪 Ireland$235
48🇸🇨 Seychelles$230
49🇦🇿 Azerbaijan$226
50🇩🇿 Algeria$219
51🇦🇲 Armenia$217
52🇧🇼 Botswana$215
53🇯🇴 Jordan$207
54🇹🇷 Turkey$199
55🇨🇴 Colombia$197
56🇧🇬 Bulgaria$194
57🇨🇳 China$183
58🇲🇹 Malta$175
59🇨🇿 Czech Republic$175
60🇮🇷 Iran$169
61🇳🇦 Namibia$159
62🇮🇶 Iraq$145
63🇪🇨 Ecuador$138
64🇲🇪 Montenegro$137
65🇷🇸 Serbia$133
66🇹🇹 Trinidad & Tobago$131
67🇬🇦 Gabon$124
68🇲🇦 Morocco$122
69🇬🇶 Equatorial Guinea$112
70🇲🇾 Malaysia$109
71🇧🇷 Brazil$107
72🇹🇭 Thailand$97
73🇬🇾 Guyana$92
74🇹🇳 Tunisia$91
75🇫🇯 Fiji$83
76🇲🇰 North Macedonia$83
77🇰🇿 Kazakhstan$82
78🇵🇪 Peru$81
79🇬🇪 Georgia$80
80🇧🇾 Belarus$80
81🇯🇲 Jamaica$77
82🇦🇱 Albania$76
83🇸🇿 Eswatini$72
84🇱🇰 Sri Lanka$69
85🇦🇷 Argentina$66
86🇧🇿 Belize$60
87🇲🇽 Mexico$59
88🇩🇴 Dominican Republic$58
89🇻🇳 Viet Nam$58
90🇿🇦 South Africa$56
91🇸🇻 El Salvador$54
92🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herzegovina$54
93🇮🇳 India$53
94🇨🇬 Republic of Congo$53
95🇵🇾 Paraguay$52
96🇧🇴 Bolivia$51
97🇵🇰 Pakistan$49
98🇺🇿 Uzbekistan$44
99🇦🇴 Angola$43
100🇽🇰 Kosovo$42
101🇲🇷 Mauritania$42
102🇭🇳 Honduras$42
103🇪🇬 Egypt$41
104🇰🇭 Cambodia$36
105🇲🇲 Myanmar$35
106🇵🇭 Philippines$33
107🇲🇳 Mongolia$33
108🇮🇩 Indonesia$31
109🇧🇩 Bangladesh$27
110🇹🇱 Timor Leste$27
111🇲🇱 Mali$26
112🇸🇳 Senegal$24
113🇨🇮 Cote d'Ivoire$23
114🇹🇬 Togo$21
115🇰🇪 Kenya$21
116🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan$20
117🇧🇫 Burkina Faso$20
118🇬🇳 Guinea$19
119🇱🇸 Lesotho$19
120🇨🇻 Cape Verde$19
121🇬🇹 Guatemala$19
122🇹🇩 Chad$18
123🇸🇸 South Sudan$18
124🇸🇩 Sudan$18
125🇺🇬 Uganda$18
126🇿🇼 Zimbabwe$17
127🇿🇲 Zambia$16
128🇲🇺 Mauritius$16
129🇨🇲 Cameroon$16
130🇳🇵 Nepal$15
131🇳🇬 Nigeria$14
132🇳🇮 Nicaragua$12
133🇬🇼 Guinea-Bissau$12
134🇹🇿 Tanzania$12
135🇨🇺 Cuba$11
136🇷🇼 Rwanda$11
137🇲🇩 Moldova$11
138🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea$10
139🇳🇪 Niger$10
140🇹🇯 Tajikistan$9
141🇨🇫 Central African Republic$8
142🇲🇿 Mozambique$8
143🇬🇭 Ghana$8
144🇧🇯 Benin$7
145🇧🇮 Burundi$7
146🇦🇫 Afghanistan$6
147🇬🇲 Gambia$6
148🇪🇹 Ethiopia$5
149🇻🇪 Venezuela$5
150🇲🇼 Malawi$4
151🇸🇱 Sierra Leone$3
152🇲🇬 Madagascar$3
153🇨🇩 Dem. Rep. of Congo$3
154🇱🇷 Liberia$3
155🇭🇹 Haiti$2
156🇨🇷 Costa Rica$0
157🇮🇸 Iceland$0
158🇵🇦 Panama$0

Measured this way, we get a perspective of how small defense budgets can be per person, even if the total expenditure is large.

For example, India has the fourth-highest total defense expenditure in 2022, but because of its massive population only sets aside $53 per resident for its military, putting it solidly at the bottom third of the per-capita rankings.

Patterns Revealed By Measuring Military Spend

Changing how we look at a country’s military budget can reveal a lot more than just looking at absolute numbers.

For example, the Middle East is the region with the highest spenders on defense as a percentage of their GDP, giving us insight into regional security concerns.

Countries from the medium group of military spending—including parts of Eastern Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia—highlight past or recent conflict zones between neighbors, countries with internal strife, or countries wary of a regional aggressor. Ukraine’s average per capita military spend, for example, was just $122.4 from 2018 to 2021. The next year, it jumped nearly 10 times to $1,018.66 per person after Russia’s invasion.

In fact, European military spending saw its sharpest one-year jump in 30 years as a direct result of the war.

Alongside European anxieties, ongoing tension between China and Taiwan has also contributed to increased military spending in Asia and Oceania. Will these budgets continue their dramatic ascent or will they rise evenly alongside their relative economies in 2023?

Data note: For these comparisons, the creator is calculating five-year averages (using data from 2018-2022) for military spending as a percentage of GDP and per-capita military spending for each country. The military expenditure data is pulled from Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Data for some countries is missing or may vary significantly from official figures. Countries with up to
two years of missing data had averages calculated on the years available, while countries with three or more years of missing data have been removed from this dataset, including: Djibouti, Eritrea, North Korea, Laos, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Turkmenistan, UAE, and Yemen.

Please see SIPRI’s methodologies page for more details on how they collect their data and create estimates.

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