The Baltic states (also known as the Baltics, Baltic nations or Baltic countries; ,) are three northern European countries east of the Baltic Sea – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which gained independence from the Russian Empire in the wake of World War I. In the period between the World Wars, the Baltic states also included Finland.
While the indigenous populations of Latvia and Lithuania are known as Baltic peoples, those of Estonia (and Finland) are Finnic peoples. Another Baltic identity, Baltic German, began to develop during the Middle Ages after the Livonian Crusade.
Linguistic and historical considerations intersect defining the concept of "Baltic states"; for example, while Latvian is phylogenetically related to Lithuanian (both belonging to the Baltic group of the Indo-european language family) Estonian belongs to a completely different family – the Uralic languages. At the same time, despite considerable linguistic proximity, Latvia and Lithuania have gone different ways for most of their history, Lithuania at one point forming a commonwealth with Poland, giving rise to one of the largest countries in Europe at the time, Latvia, in turn, sharing most of its history with Estonia, both being governed by a Baltic German élite for almost a millenium. Also worth noting is the role of Livonians (an extinct Finnic ethnicity closely related to Estonians) in the ethnogenesis of Latvians, according to some accounts, the assimilation of (Uralic) Vidzeme Livonians by ancient (Indo-european) Latgallians formed the basis of what is today known as the Latvian language and Latvians.
And, indeed, some commentators identify Latvia as the most "Baltic" (in a geopolitical sense) of the Baltic states, noting Estonia's close linguistic affinity with Finland as well as its bid to be considered a Nordic country, in turn, identifying Lithuanian as "the most Central European" of the Baltic states by virtue of Lithuania's close historical ties with Poland.