The Republic of Estonia is a country in Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland (with Finland itself just a short sail away), to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia, and to the east by the Russian Federation.
Estonia is a democratic parliamentary republic and is divided into 15 counties.
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 1500s Estonia passed to Swedish rule, under which it remained until 1710 (de jure until 1721), when it was ceded to the Russian Empire.
Estonia gained independence in 1920. 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 20 August 1991.
Despite its official independence, Estonia was firmly in the Soviet Union's sphere of influence. When the Second World War broke out in 1938, Estonia attempted to remain neutral in the war between the USSR and Germany. However, as Germany made advances into neighboring Lithuania, the Soviet Red Army marched into Estonia. Although Soviet leader Joseph Stalin promised that the Red Army would withdraw once the crisis had passed, no one believed him. Indeed, when the war ended in 1944, Estonia became a Soviet Socialist Republic and was incorporated into the USSR.