Russian armies of serf conscripts were outfought by their Western opponents in the Crimean War (1853–56). This, combined with the spiralling rural unrest the demands of war had triggered, led Emperor Alexander II to embark an ambitious programme of reform (1861–65), beginning with the emancipation of serfs. Zemstva, a basic form of local authority, were introduced in 1863, Duma, their urban equivalent, followed in 1870. But the traction obtained by modernization was subject to wide regional variation. In the Baltic governates, New Russia and Kuban, a relatively affluent cash crop culture developed. In the centre – Mid-Volga, Central Black Earth and Little Russia – rural overpopulation created a cycle of deprivation and indebtedness: these regions would become the epicentres of famine in 1891, and rural rebellion in 1905. Migrants from rural poverty fed the iron and coal mines of Kursk and the Urals, and the factories of St Petersburg, Moscow, Perm and Orenburg.
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