EDITOR’S NOTE: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine might come “any day now,” the Biden administration warns, with intelligence rumors marking Wednesday as a likely date. If Russia does invade, the United States and its allies have pledged to impose “severe economic sanctions” on Russia. The result would be horrible casualties in Ukraine, and, with Russia now supplying as much as 40 percent of Europe’s natural gas, significant economic disruption in both Russia and Europe, that would surely affect the rest of the world as well.

If Ukraine does blow up, questions about our course—already constricted by administration officials lobbing McCarthy-esque accusations at critics and reporters—might easily be overwhelmed by patriotic zealotry. So it is worth asking now: What is this conflict about?

It certainly isn’t about the West’s defense of Ukraine. Three US presidents have made it clear that the United States does not believe Ukraine is worth defending militarily. Despite continued flirtations, Ukraine is not part of NATO, nor is it likely ever to be admitted to NATO. In reality, Ukraine is the closest thing Europe has to a failed state. It’s the only Soviet republic whose economy has declined from where it was as of the Soviet Union’s breakup. As historian Adam Tooze has detailed, from 1990 to 2017, Ukraine’s gross domestic product per capita (in constant dollars) fell 20 percent. That’s the fifth worst in the world, above only the Democratic Republic of Congo, the United Arab Emirates, Burundi and Yemen.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.