The paper asks how the Russian Empire emerged. In the course of European monarchical rise of the 16–17th centuries, composite monarchies turned into nation states and then empires. Russia never became a composite; very soon after its emergence at the end of the 15th century, it immediately moved to the imperial stage. The answer to why this happened is the key to understanding the Russian Empire’s history. One factor that prevented Russia from building a composite monarchy was the weakness of political actors united under Moscow’s leadership. European composite monarchies emerged when and where the dominant monarchy forcefully broke local laws, fought against local class and political systems. But Moscow’s rivals were too weak, and Russian monarchs did not need to compromise with them. A shared Orthodox faith, common culture, language, and economic structure, as well as the absence of natural borders on the Eastern European plain were other factors that allowed Moscow to ignore the rights of conquered regions. Russia’s background as a part of the Mongol Empire also played a role. By the time Russia faced strong European monarchical competitors, its imperial development path already formed. An important feature of the early Muscovite Empire was the dominance of political practice over ideology. The ideological design of the Empire occurred only in the 18th and 19th century. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the imperial character of Muscovy was formed intuitively and spontaneously; one might call it a neonatal, rudimentary, infant empire.