Infographic: A History of US Sanctions on Russia – Visual Capitalist

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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 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.
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.
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.
The Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations have all imposed sanctions against Russia for its malicious cyber activities.
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.
The U.S. maintains various sanctions designed to counteract Russian influence in Syria, Venezuela, and 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.
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.
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.
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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Nuclear weapons have devastating effects, but the science of how they work is atomically small. So, how do nuclear weapons work?
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In 1945, the world’s first-ever nuclear weapon was detonated at the Trinity test site in New Mexico, United States, marking the beginning of the Atomic Age.
Since then, the global nuclear stockpile has multiplied, and when geopolitical tensions rise, the idea of a nuclear apocalypse understandably causes widespread concern.
But despite their catastrophically large effects, the science of how nuclear weapons work is atomically small.
All matter is composed of atoms, which host different combinations of three particles—protons, electrons, and neutrons. Nuclear weapons work by capitalizing on the interactions of protons and neutrons to create an explosive chain reaction.
At the center of every atom is a core called the nucleus, which is composed of closely-bound protons and neutrons. While the number of protons is unique to each element in the periodic table, the number of neutrons can vary. As a result, there are multiple “species” of some elements, known as isotopes.
For example, here are some isotopes of uranium:
These isotopes can be stable or unstable. Stable isotopes have a relatively static or unchanging number of neutrons. But when a chemical element has too many neutrons, it becomes unstable or fissile.
When fissile isotopes attempt to become stable, they shed excess neutrons and energy. This energy is where nuclear weapons get their explosivity from.
There are two types of nuclear weapons:
So, what exactly is the difference between fission and fusion reactions?
Nuclear fission—the process used by nuclear reactors—produces large amounts of energy by breaking apart a heavier unstable atom into two smaller atoms, starting a nuclear chain reaction.
When a neutron is fired into the nucleus of a fissile atom like uranium-235, the uranium atom splits into two smaller atoms known as “fissile fragments” in addition to more neutrons and energy. These excess neutrons can then start a self-sustaining chain reaction by hitting the nuclei of other uranium-235 atoms, resulting in an atomic explosion.
Atomic bombs use nuclear fission, though it’s important to note that a fission chain reaction requires a particular amount of a fissile material like uranium-235, known as the supercritical mass.
Hydrogen bombs use a combination of fission and fusion, with nuclear fusion amplifying a fission reaction to produce a much more powerful explosion than atomic bombs.
Fusion is essentially the opposite of fission—instead of splitting a heavier atom into smaller atoms, it works by putting together two atoms to form a third unstable atom. It’s also the same process that fuels the Sun.
Nuclear fusion mainly relies on isotopes of lighter elements, like the two isotopes of hydrogen—deuterium and tritium. When subjected to intense heat and pressure, these two atoms fuse together to form an extremely unstable helium isotope, which releases energy and neutrons.
The released neutrons then fuel the fission reactions of heavier atoms like uranium-235, creating an explosive chain reaction.
Just how powerful are hydrogen bombs, and how do they compare to atomic bombs?
The bombs Little Boy and Fat Man were used in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, bringing a destructive end to World War II. The scale of these bombings was, at the time, unparalleled. But comparing these to hydrogen bombs shows just how powerful nuclear weapons have become.
Castle Bravo was the codename for the United States’ largest-ever nuclear weapon test, a hydrogen bomb that produced a yield of 15,000 kilotons—making it 1,000 times more powerful than Little Boy. What’s more, radioactive traces from the explosion, which took place on the Marshall Islands near Fiji, were found in Australia, India, Japan, U.S., and Europe.
Seven years later, the Soviet Union tested Tsar Bomba in 1961, the world’s most powerful nuclear weapon. The explosion produced 51,000 kilotons of explosive energy, with a destructive radius of roughly 60km.
Given how damaging a single nuke can be, it’s difficult to imagine the outcome of an actual nuclear conflict without fear of total annihilation, especially with the world’s nuclear arsenal sitting at over 13,000 warheads.
Which countries have the biggest militaries in the world? This map reveals all the world’s military personnel.
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While much of the world is living in one of the most peaceful periods in history, the spark of new conflicts like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reminds us of the importance of military personnel.
Between ongoing armed conflicts to building of defenses preemptively, many countries have amassed significant militaries to date.
This map, using data from World Population Review, displays all the world’s military personnel.
So who has the largest military? Well, the answer isn’t so simple.
There are three commonly measured categories of military personnel:
NOTE: Of these categories of military personnel, paramilitary is the least well-defined across the world’s countries and thus not included in the infographic above.
Which country has the biggest military? It depends who’s doing the counting.
If we include paramilitary forces, here’s how the top countries stack up in terms of military personnel:
Source: World Population Review
When combining all three types of military, Vietnam comes out on top with over 10 million personnel.
And here are the world’s top 10 biggest militaries, excluding paramilitary forces:

Country Active Military Reserve Military Total Military
🇻🇳 Vietnam 482,000 5,000,000 5,482,000
🇰🇷 South Korea 599,000 3,100,000 3,699,000
🇨🇳 China 2,185,000 1,170,000 3,355,000
🇷🇺 Russia 1,014,000 2,000,000 3,014,000
🇮🇳 India 1,455,550 1,155,000 2,610,550
🇺🇸 United States 1,388,100 844,950 2,233,050
🇰🇵 North Korea 1,280,000 600,000 1,880,000
🇹🇼 Taiwan 163,000 1,657,000 1,820,000
🇧🇷 Brazil 366,500 1,340,000 1,706,500
🇵🇰 Pakistan 654,000 550,000 1,204,000


Even in this case, North Korea remains near the top of the list with these much larger nations. Excluding estimates of paramilitary forces, the Hermit Kingdom has nearly 1.9 million active and reserve troops.
The reasons for these immense military sizes are obvious in some cases. For example, in Vietnam, North Korea, and Russia, citizens are required to serve a mandatory period of time for the military.
The Koreas, two countries still technically at war, both conscript citizens for their armies. In North Korea, boys are conscripted at age 14. They begin active service at age 17 and remain in the army for another 13 years. In select cases, women are conscripted as well.
In South Korea, a man must enlist at some point between the ages of 18 and 28. Most service terms are just over one year at minimum. There are however, certain exceptions: the K-Pop group BTS was recently granted legal rights to delay their military service, thanks to the country’s culture minister.
Here’s a look at just a few of the other countries that require their citizens to serve some form of military service:
In many of these countries, geopolitical and historical factors play into why they have mandatory service in place.
In the U.S., many different factors play into why the country has such a large military force. For one, the military industrial complex feeds into the U.S. army. A longstanding tradition of the American government and the defense and weapons industry working closely together creates economic incentives to build up arms and defenses, translating into a need for more personnel.
Additionally, the U.S. army offers job security and safety nets, and can be an attractive career choice. Culturally, the military is also held in high esteem in the country.
For many countries, building up military personnel is a priority, however, there are other nations who have no armies at all (excluding the paramilitary branch).
Here’s a glance at some countries that have no armies:
Costa Rica has no army as it was dissolved after the country’s civil war in the 1940s. The funds for the military were redirected towards other public services, such as education.
This is not to say that these nations live in a state of constant peace—most have found alternative means to garner security forces. Under the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, other countries like the U.S. are technically obligated to provide military services to Costa Rica, for example, should they be in need.
International conflicts persist in the 21st century, but now go far beyond just the number of troops on the ground.
New and emerging forms of warfare pose unforeseen threats. For example, cyber warfare and utilization of data to attack populations could dismantle countries and cause conflict almost instantaneously. Cybersecurity failure has been ranked among the top 10 most likely risks to the world today.
If current trends continue, soldiers of the future will face off on very different fields of battle.
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