After the Cossack-led Russians explorers made incursions into Manchuria, the necessity for expanding diplomatic relations increased. The Chinese expressed little interest in the area along the Amur River that the Russians had set their sites on and events might have proceeded smoothly for them were it not for the Cossacks. The Cossacks, not bound by any loyalty to Russia, saw little need to give up their history of marauding and pillaging. As a result, many Chinese were continuing to flee from the horde, forcing the Chinese government to take action. Launching a series of invasions to push the Cossack armies back, they were sometimes successful and sometimes not. Regardless, the situation became a precarious one for Russia. Eventually, in 1689, diplomatic relations were officially established and Russia embarked upon an effort of colonization.
The Cossacks, however, still remained for the most part independent in the east, though that independence was certainly precarious in the wake of the rise of Tsar Ivan IV, better known to history as Ivan the Terrible. Ivan the Terrible moved to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor and assert total authority over all Russian peoples and lands. In fact, it was Ivan the Terrible’s plan to make every commoner in Russia essentially a servant to the Tsar. Russia experienced a seemingly endless series of wars and purges which did much to reduce the population. The nobles began to demand more from the peasants and the peasants responded by fleeing toward newly conquered territory to both the west and the east.
The Cossacks had so far managed to keep themselves beyond the reach of the Tsar’s officials, which only served to intensify the effort to bring them into line. The result was the decision to completely tie the rights of the peasants to the land, by making them serfs who would be in perpetual bondage to the noble landholders, who in turn were bound to the service of the Tsar. Ivan the Terrible went even further by deciding that just as the Russian Tsar owned all the land in the country, so could he also lay claim to owning all the industry. What this really meant was a complete and utter lack of security in either work or property, where even the wealthy were really nothing more than servants of the Tsar. Ivan the Terrible was clearly moving toward the single most autocratic and absolutist reign in Europe, a reign in which nothing that anyone else in the country touched truly belong to them and not him. Little wonder then that his death ushered a period of chaos and confusion. Further complicating matters was the fact that Ivan’s son Theodor died without producing an heir.
Following Theodor’s death, Russia slid into what became known as the Time of Troubles, a period of great instability and political infighting over who would rule and guide the future of the country. Perhaps sensing just how precarious their long-held autonomy really was, the Cossacks took hold of the opportunity that presented itself and began a march toward the north. As they did so, they rallied the peasants and slaughtered any nobles or Russian officials standing in their way. As their numbers swelled with the increase of the peasants, they began demanding that the true tsar be put into power, one who would restore the freedoms of movement and the allowance of farming for whoever they wished. They also demanded that the heavy burden of taxation be reduced, along with the rights of landlords.