Area: 24,938 square miles.
Neighbouring countries: Estonia, Russia, Belarus and Lithuania.
Environment: Latvia consists of fertile low-lying plains,with numerous lakes and marshes. The climate in the west is moderated by the Baltic Sea, but the eastern climate is harsher. The main river, the Daugava, runs into the Gulf of Riga. This provides hydroelectric power, although it is heavily polluted. About one third of Latvia is forested.
Population: 2.3 million, with an aging and decreasing population, partly due to emigration.
Infant mortality: 15 deaths per 1,000 live births.
Life expectancy: men 63 years, women 75 years.
Ethnic groups: Latvian 57%, Russian 30%, Byelorussian 4%, Ukrainian 3%, Polish 3%, others 3%.
Languages: Latvian/Lettish (official), Russian and Lithuanian.
Government: Parliamentary democracy.
Capital and main port: Riga (826,000).
Economy: Latvia has decreased its trade dependency on Russia; it is working to gain EU membership. It has few natural resources apart from hydroelectric energy, but is striving to become a market-driven, industrial, high-tech economy. Unemployment is falling. Exports include timber, manufactured goods, metals, textiles and foodstuffs.
Religion: Non-religious 40%; Roman Catholic 20%; Protestant 19%; Russian Orthodox 4%; Old Believers 2%; others, including cults, 15%.
Protestant denominations: Lutheran, Baptist, Pentecostals and others. The churches are either Latvian or Russian.
History: After independence between the two World Wars, Latvia was annexed by the USSR in 1940. Stalin liquidated a fifth of the population and deported many others, forcibly resettling Russians into their place.
Latvia regained independence in 1991 following the break-up of the Soviet Union. Today the sizeable Russian minority faces social discrimination from the Latvian majority; many Russians are emigrating.