Latvia is a nation situated in Eastern Europe and is part of the Baltic States, so named due to their proximity to the Baltic Sea. Latvia is bordered by the 4 neighboring nations of Russia (eastwards), Estonia (northwards), Belarus (southeastwards), and Lithuania (southwards). The country is bound to the west by the Gulf of Riga and the Baltic Sea. Historically, the country also shared a land border with Poland but this shifted during the territorial changes of the Baltic States after the Second World War. The country is large relative to its neighboring countries (except Russia) as it covers an area of 24,938 square miles. Latvia has a long border which extends a total length of 1,159 miles, 850 miles of which is the country’s land border. The longest of Latvia’s international borders is the Lithuania-Latvia border which stretches 358 miles long while the country’s shortest international border is the border separating the country from Belarus which is 106 miles long. The border of Latvia was first demarcated when the country first gained independence from the Russian Empire in the aftermath of the Great War.
Lithuania bounds Latvia to the south and the two countries share a long border. The border is the longest of Latvia’s international borders as it measures 358 miles in length. The triple junction of the two countries and Belarus marks the start of the border from where it moves west to the coast of the Baltic Sea. The border also extends into the Baltic Sea where it represents the maritime border separating the two countries. The maritime section of the international border is 13.8 miles in length. A significant portion of the Latvia-Lithuania border follows the course of the Sventoji River.
Like all of Latvia’s international borders, the Latvia-Lithuania border was first demarcated when the Baltic States gained independence in the early 20th century. The two countries agreed to retain the definition of the border after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in the late 1980s. The cross-border movement was once restricted on the border which featured numerous border checkpoints and was patrolled by security forces. However, cross-border movement on the Lithuania-Latvia border is presently unrestricted after the two countries became part of the Schengen Area in 2007. Soon after gaining independence, Lithuania and Latvia were entangled in a border dispute with regards to the maritime border separating the territorial waters of the two countries in the Baltic Sea. Extensive negotiations between the two countries bore fruit, and the maritime border was defined by a straight line extending into the Baltic Sea.
Latvia is bound to the east by Russia. A land border measuring 181 miles in length separates the two countries, which starts at the tripoint connecting the two countries to Estonia and ends at the tripoint connecting the two countries to Belarus. Along with its stretch, the land border touches one oblast in Russia and seven municipalities in Latvia. With Latvia being a member of the European Union, the border also represents that eastern portion of the EU border.
The border was first delineated in the early 20th century after Latvia gained independence in 1918 from the Russian Empire but was altered after Latvia became part of the Soviet Union during the Second World War. While Latvia inherited the demarcation of the border after regaining independence in 1991, the two countries have been engaged in a tussle over the border. The border features heavy security and is extensively patrolled on the Russian side as it is found on Russia’s Border Security Zone. Cross-border movements on the Russia-Latvia border are not permitted except on the few border crossings found along the border. To cross the border, one is required to receive a permit from the Federal Security Service. People can also cross into either country through air, with all major airports in Latvia being defined as border crossing points. An example is the Riga International Airport which facilitates air travel to and from the major airports in Russia.
Latvia shares a 207-mile long border with Estonia to the north. The border runs from the Gulf of Riga eastwards to the tripoint connecting Latvia, Estonia, and Russia. As the two nations are both part of the Schengen Agreement there is little policing of the border. There are three major crossing points - the Via Baltika (E67) which follows the Gulf of Riga on the western coast, the A3 through the twin border cities of Valka (Latvia) and Valga (Estonia), and the A2 through Veclaicene. The twin cities of Valka and Valga use the slogan "One Town, Two Countries" which was aided by the abolition of the Estonia-Latvia border in 2007 under the expansion of the Schengen Agreement.
Latvia is bound to the southeast by Belarus, a country with which it shares a long border. The border separating the two countries starts at the tripoint connecting Latvia, Belarus, and Russia from where it extends in a southwest direction until the Belarus-Lithuania-Latvia tripoint. The border covers a total of 106 miles, making it the shortest of Latvia’s international borders.
The delineation of the border was inherited from the Soviet Union by Latvia and Belarus after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The Belarus-Latvia border features seven border crossing points through which cross-border movement is allowed. These crossing points were established as a result of a presidential decree from the President of Belarus in May 2006. One crossing point is a railroad crossing while two are highway crossings. The other four crossings are simplified crossing points.
History of the Border
In 1940, the Second World War was at its peak, and the Soviet Union had used the outbreak of the war to extend its territory in Eastern Europe. Latvia, one of the Baltic States, had originally gained independence from the Russian Empire in the wake of the Great War and the subsequent Russian Revolution. During the Second World War, the Soviet Union invaded the Baltic States including Latvia which became part of the Soviet Union. The land boundaries of the Baltic States were demarcated during this period, and except for a few major changes, this original definition of the border would be retained as the international borders of the Baltic States after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the late 20th century. At this period, Latvia was known as the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic. One major territorial change in Latvia happened in 1944 when a chunk of Latvian territory was ceded by the Soviet Union to become part of the Pskov Oblast. Latvia inherited the definition of the border after regaining its independence but has been fighting to regain the territories that it lost to Russia when it was part of the Soviet Union. Russia has been adamant that it will not hold any dialogue with Latvia which was aimed at Russia losing part of its territory.
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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