Latvia lies on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea on the level northwestern part of the rising East European platform, between Estonia and Lithuania. About 98% of the country lies under 200 m (656 ft) elevation. The damp climate resembles New England's. With the exception of the coastal plains, the ice age divided Latvia into three main regions: the morainic Western and Eastern uplands and the Middle lowlands. Latvia holds over 12,000 rivers, only 17 of which are longer than 60 miles (97 km), and over 3,000 small lakes, most of which are eutrophic. The major rivers include the Daugava, the Lielupe, the Gauja, the Venta and the Salaca. Woodlands, more than half of which are pine woods, cover around 41% of the country. Other than peat, dolomite, and limestone, natural resources are scarce. Latvia has 531 km (330 mi) of sandy coastline, and the ports of Liepaja and Ventspils provide important warm-water harbors for the Baltic coast.
Latvia is slightly larger than Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovakia, orEstonia. Its strategic location has instigated many wars between rival powers on its territory. As U.S.S.R. granted Russia the Abrene region on the Livonian frontier, which Latvia still contests.
recently as 1944, the
Latvia is traditionally seen as a small country. In terms of its population of about 2.3 million, it deserves this designation. Geographically, however, Latvia encompasses 64,589 square kilometers, a size surpassing that of better-known European states such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Denmark. Seen from the air, Latvia is an extension of theEast European Plain. Its flat terrain differs little from that of its surrounding neighbors. Latvia's only distinct border is the Baltic Sea coast, which extends for 531 kilometers. Its neighbors include Estonia on the north (267 kilometers of common border), Lithuania on the south (453 kilometers), Belarus on the southeast (141 kilometers), and Russia on the east (217 kilometers). Prior to World War II, Latvia bordered eastern Poland, but as a result of boundary changes by the Soviet Union, this territory was attached to Belarus. Also, in 1944 Russia annexed the northeastern border district of Latvia, known as Abrene, including the town of Pytalovo.