A country lying on the shores of the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Riga. It borders on Estonia to the north, Russia to the east, and Lithuania to the south.
Latvia is generally flat, though hilly in the lakelands of the east and well forested with fir, pine, birch, and oak. It has a modified continental climate.
Mineral resources are limited, although there are unexplored reserves of oil. Latvia produces about half its energy requirements (the Dvina and its tributaries are the source of hydroelectric power) and is dependent for the rest on imports and the unified grid of the Baltic region. Manufacturing industry concentrates on machinery, metal engineering, and durable consumer goods; light industry is also well developed. Agriculture specializes in dairy and meat production, and grains. Tourism is of growing importance.
Originally inhabited by Lettish peoples, it was overrun by the Russians and Swedes during the 10th and 11th centuries, and settled by German merchants and Christian missionaries from 1158. In the 13th century the Hanseatic League forged commercial links, while the Teutonic Knights and German bishops imposed feudal overlordship. With Estonia it became part of Livonia in 1346, was partitioned under Ivan IV (The Terrible) of Russia, and came under Lutheran influence in the Reformation. It then fell to the Poles, and in the 17th century to the Swedes. Their rule lasted until 1721, when parts again reverted to Russia, the remainder succumbing in the partitions of Poland. From the 1880s Tsarist governments imposed a policy of Russification to counteract growing demands for independence, which was proclaimed in April 1918. After a confused period of war between Latvians, Germans, and Bolshevik Russians, international recognition was gained in 1921 and the Constitution of the Republic agreed in 1922. During the years 1922–40 sea‐ports and industry declined with the loss of Russian markets, but agriculture flourished, many of the great estates being broken up. In 1934 a neo‐fascist regime was formed by Karlis Ulmanis, who vainly tried to win Hitler's support, but was sacrificed in the Nazi‐Soviet Pact of 1939. The Red Army occupied it in June 1940, but German troops took Riga on 1 July 1941 and were welcomed. Re‐occupied by the Red Army in October 1944, it became a constituent republic of the Soviet Union. Latvian nationalism never died however, and in May 1990 a newly elected Supreme Soviet passed a resolution demanding independence from the Soviet Union, based on the Constitution of 1922. Negotiations began in Moscow, and independence was recognized by the Soviet Union in September 1991. A new citizenship law excluded from political activity all who were not citizens of pre‐war Latvia or their descendants, thus excluding 48.2% of the population, most of whom were Russians. A new government was elected in 1993 under President Guntis Ulmanis. In 1994 and 1998 the citizenship law was modified slightly but tensions between the Russian and Latvian communities continued. The last Russian troops were withdrawn from Latvia in August 1994. General elections in 1995 produced no clear winner and a coalition government was formed. In 1996 parliament re‐elected Ulmanis President; Vaira Vike‐Freiberga became President in 1999. Latvia joined NATO and the European Union in 2004.