For anyone not familiar with the ins and outs of Europe's smaller ethnic groups, STRATFOR's report is alarming, especially coming on the heals of this summer's crisis in South Ossetia. Moreover, in a world where Putin has shown a strong desire to reassert control over other former Soviet republics, it can seem entirely plausible that yet another ethnic group one has never heard of before will provide similar leverage in Ukraine to that offered by the Ossetians and the Abkhazians in Georgia. Despite Russian attempts to make Rusyn separatism seem a serious threat to Ukraine, people would be well advised to be skeptical about the level of support for separatism among the Rusyns of Transcarpathia as well as Russia's ability to manipulate the situation, however strategically advantageous it might seem.
The first problem with such analogies, is that unlike the Ossetians and Abkhazians, the Rusyns never had the advantage of being declared a distinct nationality in the Soviet Union and have their territory granted any nominal autonomous status. In fact, from the moment of annexation at the end of World War II Soviet policy towards the Rusyns of Transcarpathia was to classify them as Ukrainians. a decision that is generally understood to have been widely accepted by the Rusyns in the area. Indeed, the American scholar Paul Magocsi, who is the main expert on and advocate for the Rusyns, maintained in his first major book that Rusyns had accepted Ukrainian identity. Beyond that, unlike South Ossetia and Abkhazia, or even Eastern Ukraine Transcarpathia is not territorially contiguous with Russia so the prospect of sending in Russian troops into the region is highly unlikely, especially since doing so would involve violating Ukrainian airspace, or alternatively gaining assistance from Poland, Slovakia, Hungary or Romania, none of which have a particularly friendly attitude towards the Russian military.
That said, there are just enough inconsistencies within the situation in Transcarpathia to give the threat of Rusyn separatism some plausibility. Glastnost and perestroika created conditions where interest in Rusyn distinctiveness in Transcarpathia has revived, something that coincided with Paul Magocsi's efforts to promote Rusyn pride among its immigrant population in America and Canada. Yet, exactly what that means politically remains unclear because no one has been concerned enough to investigate it empirically which has left something of a half full glass for people to analyze according to their own preferences. Even so estimates based on what little empirical data is available suggests that only about 10% of Transcarpathia's million inhabitants identify strongly as Rusyns. So the Rusyn separatists that Russia has been calling attention have a long way to go to convince their compatriots to take their cause as something worthy of their support. As it stands, the main body of the World Congress of Rusyns has condemned the separatists.
If anything Russian support for the Rusyn separatists comes off as a farcical replay of events prior to World War I when the circumstances of living under Hungarian assimilationist policies and tensions between immigrant communities from Transcarpathia and Greek Catholic priests from Galicia created a degree of sympathy for Russia -- Some communities in the United States even went so far as to convert to Russian Orthodoxy, a decision some sought to encourage with modest success back in the homeland. Soon Russian nationalists, were seeking to make use of that opening. Russian scholars began taking an interest in the region and just before World War I Russian agents did their best to promoting pro-Russian sentiment. Their success, however, was marginal, and there is little to suggest that this time Russian nationalists will be any more successful this time. Indeed, rather than setting the stage for the collapse of Ukraine at the hands of Russia as STRATFOR suggests, these events may finally put the issue of Rusyn loyalty to Ukraine to rest.