Estonia

Estonia, country in northeastern Europe, the northernmost of the three Baltic states. Estonia’s area includes some 1,500 islands and islets; the two largest of these islands, Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, are off mainland Estonia’s west coast.

Estonia has been dominated by foreign powers through much of its history. In 1940 it was incorporated into the U.S.S.R. as one of its constituent republics. Estonia remained a Soviet republic until 1991, when, along with the other Baltic states, it declared its independence. The Soviet Union recognized independence for Estonia and the other Baltic states on September 6, 1991, and United Nations membership followed shortly thereafter. Estonia set about transforming its government into a parliamentary democracy and reorienting its economy toward market capitalism. It sought integration with greater Europe and in 2004 joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU).

Situated in northeastern Europe, Estonia juts out into the Baltic Sea, which surrounds the country to the north and west. To the east Estonia is bounded by Russia—predominantly by the Narva River and Lakes Peipus (Peipsi; Russian: Chudskoye Ozero), Tyoploye, and Pskov—and to the south it is bounded by Latvia.

The Estonian landscape is largely the product of glacial activity. The south is covered with moraine hills, and the central part of the country abounds in elongated hills with flat tops. Northern Estonia is characterized by long narrow swells consisting of deposits left by glacial rivers that formed during the melting of ice. Extensive sandy areas mark what was once the glacier’s edge. Estonia’s relief is thus generally undulating, with small hills and numerous lakes, rivers, and forests lending a mild and picturesque aspect to the scene, particularly in the south.

The mean elevation is 164 feet (50 metres) above sea level; only about one-tenth of the territory lies at elevations exceeding 300 feet (90 metres). In the southeast is the Haanja Upland, containing Suur Munamägi (Great Egg Hill), which, at 1,043 feet (318 metres), is the highest point in Estonia.

Estonia abounds in rivers, which flow to the Gulf of Finland, to the Gulf of Riga, and into Lake Peipus. The longest river, the Pärnu, stretches for about 90 miles (145 km); other important rivers are the Pedja, Narva, and Kasari. The country’s largest lake is Peipus, with a surface area of about 1,370 square miles (3,550 square km), which is shared with Russia. Lake Võrts is situated in south-central Estonia.

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