Estonia is the most northerly of the three Baltic states, and has linguistic ties with Finland.
Since regaining its independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Estonia has become one of the most economically successful of the European Union’s newer eastern European members.
Ruled at various times during the middle ages by Denmark, the German knights of the Livonian Order, and Sweden, Estonia ended up part of the Russian Empire in the 18th century.
It experienced its first period of independence in 1918, following the end of the First World War and the collapse of the Russian Empire.
But the new state, which underwent periods of both democratic and authoritarian rule, was short-lived.
After only 20 years, Estonia was forcefully incorporated into Soviet Union in 1940, following a pact between Hitler and Stalin. German troops occupied Estonia during World War II, before being driven out by the Soviet army.
Few nations formally recognised the Soviet annexation, and Estonians consider it an illegal occupation.
One of its legacies is a large Russian minority – about a quarter of the population, according to the 2011 census. In Soviet times, the influx of non-Estonians led some to fear for the survival of Estonian culture and language.
The Russians’ status has been a cause of controversy. Some, including the Russian government, criticise requirements needed to obtain Estonian citizenship – especially the need to show a proficiency in the Estonian language – that left most ethnic Russians stateless after independence.
Estonia says the criteria for citizenship are similar to those of most nations around the world, and have been in any case gradually eased. It says the number of stateless persons has dropped by 80% between 1992 and 2013.
Since independence, Estonia has politically and economically anchored itself firmly to the West, joining the EU and Nato in 2004. It sent a contingent of troops as part of Nato operations in Afghanistan.
Russia’s intervention in the Ukrainian crisis in 2014 has triggered some nervousness in Estonia over President Vladimir Putin’s intentions towards other former Soviet states. The Estonian government has been fiercely critical of Russia’s behaviour and has affirmed its pro-Nato stance in response to the events in Ukraine.
Estonian governments have tended to pursue strongly free-market economic policies, privatising state enterprises, introducing a flat-rate income tax, liberalising regulation, encouraging free trade and and keeping public debt low.
There has also been a strong emphasis on making Estonia a world leader in technology, leading some to speak of an “e-economy”.
This has included creating one of the world’s fastest broadband networks, offering widespread free wireless internet, encouraging technology start-ups and putting government services online. In 2007, Estonia was the first country to allow online voting in a general election.
The country experienced an investment boom in the early 2000s, especially after EU membership, with high annual growth rates hovering between 7-10%.
In 2008, Estonia’s economy was hit by the global financial crisis. The government adopted tough austerity measures and won plaudits for getting the economy back into shape.
The country joined the European single currency in January 2011.
The Estonian language is closely related to Finnish and – more distantly – Hungarian, but not to the Indo-European languages of the two other Baltic states – Latvia and Lithuania – or Russian for that matter.
The country has unique musical and dance traditions, including a long tradition of choral singing.