That’s now changing. State TV is mobilizing the population in a way not seen before under Putin. Russians are told they face an existential threat from a West out to destroy their country.
TV urges Russians to back their president, or as he is now more frequently known, the “supreme commander-in-chief”.
Celebrities opposing the war are decried as “traitors”.
Viewers are desensitised to the violence committed by their sons, brothers and husbands in Ukraine, but such a process does not happen overnight.
While claims of Ukrainians being Nazis are new to most outside Russia, for the 70 per cent or so of Russians said by pollsters to turn to state TV as their main source of news, it’s a well-established fact.
Ever since Ukraine’s pro-European revolution in 2014 and Russia’s subsequent annexation of Crimea, state TV has gradually conditioned people to see Ukrainians as inferior. I’ve seen this play out with people I hold dear.
I recently received a call from a Russian friend. As part of my degree I spent a year in the city of Yekaterinburg, a two-hour flight east of Moscow.
There I met Viktor, in his fifties, who welcomed me into his family. I spent many a weekend at his dacha honing my colloquial Russian and grew to love his simpler way of life, chopping firewood and foraging for mushrooms in the nearby forest.
We always steered clear of politics, but now he inevitably asks me how I’m finding my job.
I try to answer with a curt “all right, thanks”, but he persists. “We’re glued to our TV. Our boys are fighting the Nazis in Ukraine. But things are fine here. We’re not feeling your sanctions yet,” he chuckles.
How do I feel at the end of a day spent watching such vitriol? It’s chastening to hear nuclear war mentioned almost daily. But when listening to such bellicose rhetoric I retreat into a state of emotional detachment.
Only when I step away from my screen am I confronted with the horror of the suffering in Ukraine.
I recently acted as an interpreter for a BBC radio interview with a wedding photographer who had successfully escaped the besieged city of Mariupol.
He spoke of people drinking from puddles and of rotting bodies that went unburied because of the shelling.
This is a war being waged with bullets and artillery. But it began years ago, on Russian TV.
Francis Scarr is a journalist with BBC Monitoring, which reports and analyzes news from media around the world.