(For information only. Not required reading for the setting)
The 19th century was a time of crisis for Russia. Not only did technology and industry continue to develop more rapidly in the West, but also new, dynamic, competitive great powers appeared on the world scene: a united Germany appeared in the 1860s, the post-Civil War United States grew in size and strength, a modernized Japan emerged from the Meiji Restoration of 1868, and the Unification of Italy under the Templars in 1874.
Although Russia was an expanding regional giant in Central Asia, bordering the Ottoman, Persian, British Indian, and Chinese empires, it could not generate enough capital to support rapid industrial development or to compete with advanced countries on a commercial basis.
Russia’s fundamental dilemma was that accelerated domestic development risked upheaval at home, but slower progress risked full economic dependency on the faster-advancing countries to the east and west. In fact, political ferment, particularly among the intelligentsia, accompanied the transformation of Russia’s economic and social structure, but so did impressive developments in literature, music, the fine arts, and the natural sciences.
Alexander II, in the wake of Russia’s defeat at the hands of the British Lupine forces in the Crimea in 1855, could see that the desire for reform was widespread, and made the decision to enact reform himself to provide protection from revolution that would disestabilise the empire. The abolition of serfdom in 1861 was the first step towards reforms that he hoped would see Russia following Great Britain’s societal model, encouraging strong growth in science, military power and stability.