The role of EU and US sanctions against Russia over Ukraine has been the subject of much popular debate, although unfortunately a debate that does not lend itself to easy conclusions. Questions commonly posed are those concerning the intended means of sanctions and how these should be viewed in light of the turmoil currently unfolding in Ukraine. For some, the answer is obvious – sanctions over the Ukrainian crisis are simply symbolic. However, other commentators take the view that they constitute a solid policy response to an alarming geopolitical situation. This article seeks to explain what the West’s sanctions consist of, the context in which they should be viewed, and their likely implications.