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ESTONIA is a low-lying republic in northeastern Europe bounded by the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea in the north and west, Russia in the east, and Latvia in the south. Estonia is a former constituent republic of the USSR and consists largely of a marshy, undulating plain with numerous forests, lakes, wetlands, and offshore islands. The largest of the islands, Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, lies across the Gulf of Riga’s mouth. The largest lakes are Peipus, which straddles the Russian border, and Vorts-Jarv in its southern central part. Numerous rivers and streams drain the country, including the Narva, which runs along the border with Russia, and the Párnu.

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Almost one-quarter of Estonia is forested, mainly with coniferous species such as firs and pine and some birch, aspen, and oak. There is a good variety of wild animals, including beaver, elk, and wild boar and birds, especially wetland species. The republic has a temperate climate, but inland it becomes more continental.

The summers are generally warm to hot, and the winters can be freezing with plenty of snow. Precipitation falls all year but is most plentiful in late summer and autumn. About 62 percent of the republic people are Estonians, who are closely related to the Finns, and the second largest group are Russians, making up about 30 percent of the population. Over 70 percent of the population live in cities, towns, or urban areas, and this is particularly true of the Russians who are mainly employed in industrial centers.

Agriculture is vital in Estonia, with livestock raising, particularly dairy cattle and pigs, being the prime activity. Crops grown include oats and rye, vegetables, especially potatoes, and flax. The forests provide valuable sawn timber and raw materials for paper, pulp, and furniture-making. The country has a modest marine and freshwater fishing industry. Estonia has significant reserves of high-quality oil shale and some deposits of phosphorus.

The oil shale is mined and processed to provide fuel, gas, electricity, and petrochemicals. Peat deposits are substantial and supply some of the electric power stations. Most industries are based in the north. The manufacturing industry includes light machinery, electronic equipment, electrical goods, vehicle parts, textiles (flax, wool), leather and wooden goods, furniture, and foods. The economy is currently undergoing a major transformation to a free-market system. Tourism and investment from the West have greatly contributed to the country’s economy.

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The smallest of the three Baltic states (the other two are Latvia and Lithuania), Estonia is a low, flat country with a hilly region in the southeast. It has a long, shallow coastline on the Baltic Sea, with many islands off the coast. Over a third of the country is forest. A wide variety of native birds and animals live in the wooded countryside of Estonia. The golden eagle, white-tailed eagle, spotted eagle, eagle owl, and black stork are all protected species; the European flying squirrel is a common sight in the Estonian forest.

The country is dotted with more than one thousand natural and artificial lakes. Estonia is located on the Eurasian Tectonic Plate.

The northwestern part of the country borders on the Baltic Sea, which is a part of the Atlantic Ocean. The rest of Estonia’s coastline is on two major inlets of the Baltic: the Gulfs of Finland and Riga.

The Gulf of Finland reaches east about 400 kilometers (250 miles) between Finland on the north and Estonia and Russia on the south.

Its width varies from 19 to 129 kilometers (12 to 80 miles), with the narrowest part at the eastern end.

The Gulf of Riga is found to the southwest of mainland Estonia, directly south of Estonia’s major islands, with Latvia on the far shore. It is about 145 kilometers (90 miles) long from north to south and ranges from 72 to 129 kilometers (45 to 80 miles) wide from east to west.

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The region known as the Baltic States includes the independent nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, all of which line the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. Finland and Sweden, two other countries that also touch the Baltic Sea, are generally included in the region known as Scandinavia.

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