Empress Catherine II

In 1762, Sophie Auguste Friederike von Anhalt-Zerbst, a German native of Stettin, displaced her husband Peter III and took the vacant Russian imperial throne, assuming the name of Catherine II. "Catherine the Great" published manifestos in 1762 and 1763 inviting Europeans, (except Jews) to immigrate and farm Russian lands while maintaining their language and culture.

Although the first received little response, the second improved the benefits that were offered and was more successful. In addition to land development, an important consideration for Catherine was the provision of a buffer zone between her Russian subjects and the nomads to the east. Germans responded in particularly large numbers due to poor conditions in their home regions. People in other countries such as France and England were more inclined to migrate to the colonies in the Americas than to the Russian frontier. Other countries, such as Austria, forbade emigration. Those who went to Russia had special rights under the terms of the manifesto. These were later revoked when the need for conscription into the Russian army arose in the latter part of the 19th century. This was especially offensive to the German Mennonite communities, whose doctrine teaches against war and aggression. Some Germans emigrated to the Americas or Germany to avoid the draft, though many did remain in Russia.