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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 19:09 GMT
Latvia
Latvia
Latvia is a country in Northeast Europe bordered by Estonia, Lithuania, Russia and Belarus. Latvia is mostly flat and contains primarily short rivers, with woodlands that cover around half of the country and few rivers that exceed 60 miles. Riga is Latvia's most populated city, as well as its economic and political core. The city's strategic position on the Gulf of Riga, at the mouth of the Daugava river, has traditionally made it an important trading post in northern Europe. Indeed, Riga was a member of the Hanseatic League, a confederation of market towns, in the 13th century. However, Latvia is also surrounded by major powers and is easy to invade. For centuries, Latvia was under the influence or direct control of its neighbors, including German crusaders, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Russian Empire. Latvia briefly became independent after World War I, but was absorbed by the Soviet Union during World War II and did not regain its independence until 1991. Since then, Latvia has sought to integrate with the West. It joined the European Union and NATO in 2004, and the eurozone in 2014. Membership in these organizations forced Latvia to undergo rapid institutional modernization and economic liberalization. Currently, the country's economy relies primarily on exports. Latvia's main geopolitical challenge has traditionally been preventing foreign aggression. In this regard, modern Latvia's primary concern is Russia. Latvia view membership with the European Union and NATO, as well as its ties with the United States, to guard against Russian interference. Still, Latvia imports the majority of its natural gas from Russia, and Russian money has a significant presence in Latvia's banking sector. Moreover, roughly a quarter of Latvia's population speaks Russian, and their status is often a source of friction between Russia and Latvia.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 00:37 GMT
Austria
Austria
A landlocked country in Central Europe, Austria's two main geographic features are the Alps - which give the country its mountainous landscape - and the Danube river - which flows through Austria's north on its way to the Black Sea. An important avenue for Austrian trade with Central and Eastern Europe, the Danube also runs through the country's capital city of Vienna. Austria has traditionally been a Central European power, with areas of influence ranging from the Carpathians in the east to the Balkans in the south. From the 13th to the early 20th century, the Austrian Habsburg monarchy was a major political player in Europe. Though the Allies occupied Austria after World War II, the country managed regain full independence in 1955 after declaring neutrality. This allowed Vienna to position itself as bridge between the Soviet Union and the West during the Cold War. To this day, Austria remains a meeting point for world leaders and contains the headquarters of many international organizations. Though Austrian influence over European affairs has diminished significantly since the end of the Hapsburg monarchy, the country joined the European in 1995 and still considers itself an interlocutor between Eastern and Western Europe. Austria has sought to rebuild its traditional sphere of influence over the territories that were once part of its empire, particularly through investment. As an export-oriented country, Austria is supportive of the European Union as long as it creates opportunities for trade and investment. However, Austria is not a founding member of the European project and is skeptical of the process of EU integration. Austria's main geopolitical challenge is therefore to preserve ties with its neighbors without jeopardizing its national sovereignty.
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