An Eastern European state, Latvia is one of the three Baltic States, the others being Estonia (to the north) and Lithuania (to the south). Latvia also borders Russia and Belarus to the east, and has a sandy 531 km coastline with the Baltic Sea and a total land area of 64,589 sq km.
The terrain is mostly low plain, with the highest point at 312 metres above sea level. Natural resources include peat, gypsum, clay, dolomite, limestone, amber and woodland; arable farming makes up around 27% of land use. However, Latvia’s wet climate means that agricultural land requires drainage.
The climate of Latvia is maritime and temperate, but the winters can be extreme due to the northern location.
The coldest months are January and February, when the average temperature is -4°C. Due to the proximity of the ocean autumn rains and fogs are frequent, daylight is short in October, November. Continuous snow cover lasts eighty-two days.
The summers in Latvia are very pleasant and modest, with an average temperature of 17°C, the peak goes occasionally as high as 30°C. The Latvians wake from the tacit and somewhat melancholic winter and enjoy the daylight and warm all through the spring and summer.
The capital is Riga, which is also one of Latvia’s three major ports; Liepaja and Ventspils are the other two.
Latvia is a parliamentary democracy. It has a unicameral parliament (the Saeima) with 100 members who are elected by direct, popular vote to serve four-year terms.
The President is elected by the Saeima for a four-year term; the current President is Valdis Zatlers, who was elected on May 31, 2007. The Prime Minister is also elected by the Saeima; the current Prime Minister is Valdis Dombrovskis, who was elected on March 12, 2009.
The Cabinet of Ministers is nominated by the Prime Minister, and must receive a confidence vote by the Saeima before it can start exercising its duties.