Peter “The Great” was the Russian emperor from 1682 until his death in 1725. He looked to Europe as a model for his realm and founded the new Russian capital city of St. Petersburg in 1703 on the Neva River. Peter had expansionist plans for the Russian Empire, which at that time was a collection of Slavic provinces to the west and khanates to the east. Beyond was Siberia, under the capital of Sibir, which was taken by Russian Emperor Ivan the Terrible in 1582.
The greater part of Russia’s coastline was frozen through much of the year and access to the Pacific coast lay beyond the rivers and steppes of the east. Russian control of that territory was won with constant fighting: the Russians lost access to the Pacific-draining Amur River in a treaty signed with Manchurian resistors in 1689. Costly wars with the Cossacks were fought between 1707 and 1717. Rebellions in Kamchatka, reached by an ocean-going Russian expedition in 1716-17, took place in 1731.
An imperial decree by Peter led to the foundation of The Imperial Academy of Sciences and Arts in St. Petersburg in 1724. The Academy’s scientific research, teaching, and discovery were intended to strengthen the Russian state and its resources, and to usher in European-influenced cultural developments. Much of the impetus for Russian exploration of the north Pacific emerged from the Academy, including Bering’s voyages of 1725-30, and 1733-43. Peter, who died just before Bering departed on his first journey to Kamchatka, wrote that these expeditions were “to find glory for the state through art and science.” Rather than intellectual discoveries, however, many historians continue to suggest that it was the promise of fur to replace the extinct Russian sable stocks, and an interest in safeguarding borders, that drove Russian expeditions.