At the beginning of the eighteenth century, when Czarist Russia was entering on to a new world stage, students of the University of Glasgow moved to Russia, and a number of them would serve the Russia Czars throughout that century. The earliest, John Grieve, was part of the wider Scottish missions to Russia was one of a representative becoming a part of the Scottish-Russian medical circle of the time. The majority were medical students who after receiving advanced medical education at the University, served as physicians to the Czars - from Peter the Great, Emperor Paul I to Alexander I, they helped to establish internal medical education and service as well as forging international links from the UK to China. Others influenced Russian governments and contributed to restructuring of areas such as the Russian Navy and education; Catherine the Great appointing one University graduate to foreign member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences in 1800. From the period, students provided insightful accounts of contemporary eighteenth-century Russian society, as evident in Anecdotes of the Russian empire; in a series of letters, written, a few years ago, from St. Petersburg (1784).

The first Russian students at the University of Glasgow were Semion Yefimovich Desnitsky and Ivan Andreyevich Tretyakov, who arrived 1761, the first Russian students to study at any British University. Under such professors such as Adam Smith, the pre-eminent economist and philosopher of the Scottish Enlightenment, and John Millar, Desnitsky and Tretyakov graduated MA in 1764 and 1765 respectively and LLD in 1767. They returned to Russia where they both became Professors of Law at Moscow University, the first Russians to hold chairs of law in Russia’s first University.

Subsequently, between the years of 1850 and 1965, around 125 students born under the Russian Empire studied at the University. However, if we take into consideration the modern day country divisions, it would have been a number closer to 38 students, many of those the sons of merchants, with long-established trade links being Russia and Scotland.

After the First World War an increased desire to foment cultural understanding and continue to promote trade with Russia saw the Russian Society of Scotland formed in Glasgow in 1915. A donation from William Weir, an engineer and successful Glasgow business man and Glasgow graduate, was made for a lectureship in Russian at the University to increase cultural understanding and awareness between the countries. Against the backdrop of the February and October Revolutions of 1917, the ensuing civil war and formation of the Soviet Union in 1922, Slavonic Studies started its history at the University. The University has since been considered as a pioneer in the attention that it devoted from an early stage to the modern study of the USSR, including its economy and society, as well as its language and literature.