One of the premier reasons that Russia has always been looking to expand is its geography. Russia is landlocked and its desires to conquer Siberia, the Far East and Western Europe can be seen as an attempt to gain access to the oceans. Now, however, the sea is no longer a requirement for inter- continental trade.
In October, 1721, following Russia's victory over Sweden, the Russian senate presented Peter the Great with the title of Emperor. By the time Peter died in 1725 however, much remained to be completed in order for Russia to call itself an empire. The eighteenth century was time of chaos and confusion in Russia. The line of succession was unstable, the governing bodies were not well established and the borders of the Empire had not been solidified.
In the early nineteenth century, however, much had changed. The empire was well established; it stretched from the Arctic Sea in the North, to the Black Sea and Caspian Sea in the south. Later in the century, the empire would control a full sixth of the land on Earth. The new acquisitions were Finland, part of what's now Poland and many archaic provinces in the Central and Far East. Russia's old enemies Poland, Sweden and Turkey were no longer a threat. Russia was widely recognized as an extremely powerful member of the Eurasian community.
All of these new territories resulted in a highly diverse population of the empire. No longer simply Russian, there were Finns, Germans, Latvians, Poles, Esthonians, Armenians, Georgians, Tartars, Lithuanians, Moldavians and many other Asiatic tribes. Even with all this variety, Russians were still the predominant ethnic group. Some of these groups, such as the Poles and Finns won special status due to the fact that they were even more civilized than the Russians. However, if there was ever a conflict of interest, Russia would stop the practice immediately.
Like most empires, the sheer vastness of the borders resulted in delayed communication and an inability to transport armies quickly. In the nineteenth century, the rulers of the empire enjoyed an absolute monarchy. That is to say, no constitution or governing body restricted the monarch's actions. Also, as in other monarchies, there was a noble class in Russia that experienced special privileges. These included land ownership, freedom from the military, tax exemption, and the right to own serfs, or slaves.
Imperial Russia relied on serf labor as the backbone of their economy which resulted in a problem by the mid-nineteenth century. The productivity of serfs and their population were both limited, but the Russian economy demanded more capital.