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Estonia (Estonian: Eesti), officially the Republic of Estonia (Estonian: Eesti Vabariik), is a state in the Baltic Region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia (343 km), and to the east by the Soviet Union (338.6 km). The territory of Estonia covers 45,227 sq km (17,462 sq mi) and is influenced by a temperate seasonal climate. The Estonians are a Finnic people, and the official Estonian language is closely related to Finnish.
Estonia is a democratic parliamentary republic and is divided into fifteen counties. The capital and largest city is Tallinn. With a population of only 1.34 million, Estonia is one of the least-populous members of the European Union.
The settlement of modern day Estonia began around 8500 BC, immediately after the Ice Age. Over the centuries, the Estonians were subjected to Danish, Teutonic, Swedish and Russian rule. Foreign rule in Estonia began in 1227. In the aftermath of the Livonian Crusade the area was conquered by Danes and Germans. From 1228–1562, parts or most of Estonia were incorporated into a crusader state Terra Mariana, that became part of the Ordensstaat, and after its decline was formed the Livonian Confederation. During the era economic activities centered around the Hanseatic League. In the 16th century Estonia passed to Swedish rule, under which it remained until 1710/1721, when it was ceded to the Russian Empire.
The Estophile Enlightenment Period (1750–1840) led to a national awakening in the mid-19th century. In 1918 the Estonian Declaration of Independence was issued, to be followed by the Estonian War of Independence (1918–1920), which resulted in the Tartu Peace Treaty recognizing Estonian independence in perpetuity. During World War II, Estonia was occupied and annexed first by the Soviet Union and subsequently by the Third Reich, only to be re-occupied by the Soviet Union in 1944.
Estonia regained its independence on August 20, 1991. It has since embarked on a rapid programme of social and economic reform. Today, the country has gained recognition for its economic freedom, its adaptation of new technologies and was one of the world's fastest growing economies for several years. However, Estonia's economy was the second worst hit of all 27 European Union members in the 2007–2010 economic crisis, contracting sharply in the first quarter of 2009.