How the West made the most dangerous version of Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen in Sochi, Russia, in September.

(CNN)Over the past decade, Vladimir Putin's resurgent Russia has been a perpetual concern for many in the West.

These concerns are not baseless. It's undeniable that Putin and the President's inner circle have grown in confidence during this period. Whether it be annexing parts of another nation, backing a dictator in a foreign war or poisoning dissidents on Russian soil, Putin's Kremlin seemingly no longer seeks validation from a West that has allowed Moscow's belligerence to grow with little effect on his behavior.
The world has been reminded of Russia's confidence in recent weeks. As gas prices soar across Europe due to a reduced supply of Russian gas and Putin severs his nation's loose diplomatic ties to NATO, it's worth examining how gravely Western policymakers have misread Putin and ignored his willingness to use the weapons at his disposal.
    The Europe-wide energy crisis reveals a very powerful tool that provides Russia with leverage in its relationship with Europe: its gas reserves.
      It is no secret that many European countries, including Germany, are reliant on Russian supplies of natural gas. The recent shortages have hammered home not just the economic, but geopolitical risks of this dependency.
      While Russia is meeting its existing obligations to supply European countries, analysts say it could increase exports to enable storage ahead of what could be a cold winter, thus reducing costs and calming nerves.
      The question from the Russian perspective is, why should we? Moscow is still awaiting German regulatory approval for Nord Stream 2, a controversial pipeline that would connect Russia to Germany and supply large amounts of gas to Western Europe. "If the German regulator hands its clearance for supplies tomorrow, supplies of 17.5 billion cubic metres will start the day after tomorrow," Putin told a televised forum on Thursday, blaming the recent gas crisis and high prices on the EU's energy policy, Reuters reported.
        The pipeline is controversial because many see it as a geopolitical influence project for Moscow, a fear that wasn't tempered when Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said earlier this month that "early completion of the certification" for Nord Stream 2 would help "cool off the current situation."
        Aside from the financial and geopolitical advantages that might come from Europe's reliance on Russian gas, it also helps play into a domestic political narrative that has evolved over time in Russia: The West keeps getting things wrong.
        The Slavyanskaya compressor station, located in Russia's Leningrad region, is the starting point of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
        "The core of this narrative is that Europe and the West needs to rethink its broken policies, be they on energy, foreign intervention or nation building," says Oleg Ignatov, a senior analyst at Crisis Group in Russia.
        "Ten years ago, this argument was more defensive, as the Kremlin wanted to protect itself from criticism from Western governments or NGOs. But now Russia can argue that Western policies failed in Libya, Syria and now Afghanistan so badly that Russia's approach has actually been correct all along," he adds.
        Western failure and Russian success are, of course, relative to the priorities of each party. Putin has said that the fall of the Soviet Union was the "greatest geopolitical tragedy" of the 20th century.
        When you factor this into so much of Putin's behavior over the last decade -- annexing Crimea, gaslighting the West over military action in Syria by denying Russia's activity, stirring tensions between NATO and Turkey -- it becomes easy to build an image of a leader trying to restore pride to his country and only too happy to exploit opportunities provided by naïve global counterparts.