"Sanctions" often refers to punishments over and above adding "costs". I think "sanctions" would be a better word than "costs" in this use.
Student or Learner
"Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) released the following statement on the need to provide greater support to Ukraine and impose additional costs on Russia in the wake of the Russian government’s annexation of Crimea today:"
Is "to impose costs" equivalent in meaning to "to impose sanctions"? If not, would there be a difference in meaning?
The last of the measures, which aims to make US fuel exports more available to reduce European dependency, might be seen as a kind of cost rather than a sanction as it will reduce their revenues but not by blocking or banning things:
I heard President Obama use the word costs on the news last night, so it seems to the word of choice. Maybe they're using it to sound tougher somehow than sanctions- more action and less bureaucratic. I don't recall the word being used this way much before now.
It does seem to be a deliberate and recent choice, though, so they're doing it for a reason.
I am not a teacher.
"Sanctions" is a far broader term and also sounds more aggresive while remaining vague.
"Costs" at least gets right to the point, money!
My impression is that "sanctions" are direct actions commanded by governments.
"Costs" are a broader thing. As mentioned above, if the US gov't encourages the production and export of LNG to Europe in order to lessen Russia's hold on natural gas supply there, that is not a "sanction." It is a policy that will impose costs on Russia.
Some liquor stores in the US and Canada are refusing to stock Russian vodkas. This is not a sanction, but it is a cost to Russia's economy.