The Republic of Latvia is a 25,499-square-mile area (about the size of West Virginia) situated on the Baltic Sea. It is bordered by Estonia to the north, Russia and Belarus to the east, and Lithuania to the south. Latvia's population is approximately 1.9 million, almost a third of whom live in the capital, Riga.
Latvia was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1944. Tens of thousands of Latvians were deported to Siberia both during and after the war, and Russians and people from other Soviet republics began migrating to Latvia. In 1987, an independence movement emerged in the country, and independence was finally restored in September 1991. Latvia joined both the EU and NATO in 2004. Today, Latvians comprise only about 62 percent of the country's population. The Russian population is about 25 percent of the total, with the remainder consisting mostly of Belarusians, Ukrainians, Poles, and Lithuanians.
In a move reflecting Latvia’s growing anxiety about Russian aggression, the country has joined its two Baltic neighbors in requesting that NATO permanently deploy forces within its borders as a deterrent. Specifically, Latvia is concerned that recent Russian declarations of an “obligation” to protect Russian speakers across the former Soviet States signal an increasing Russian willingness to intervene militarily elsewhere in the region. Latvia’s largest internal challenge is corruption, while issues such as incidents of anti-Semitism, trafficking in persons, and prisoner abuse arise sporadically.
Staff Contact: Alex Tiersky, senior policy advisor