UNHCR refugee camp in the Lower Kartli Provence of Georgia along the  Armenian border

Thousands of displaced Armenian families wait in a two-kilometer line growing by the hour while UNHCR uniformed workers pass out bottled water and food packs, registering and settling families into tents. Further in, an American seems to be calling the shots. He declined to pose for a photo, but a camp aid later identified him as James Wusterbarth, confirmed through a LinkedIn photo.  

With an extensive military and federal law enforcement background, James is typical for the type of NGO workers one finds in these environments. He worked in Romania and Cypress during the Ukrainian exodus, and with Afghan and  Syrian refugee placement in the United Arab Emirates. Previously, in North  America, he oversaw anti-poaching operations protecting endangered species in  the Alaskan Arctic Circle, the Florida Keys, and briefly in central Africa with the  Congolese Rangers of Virunga during the revolution.  

Today, in the Georgian border province of Kvemo Kartli, it is unclear which of the  NGO’s he is here with, or what his specific role is. He is affable and seems humorously evasive about the details of his involvement, though he grows more contentious as we speak. He is clear about his agenda in allowing a brief interview. His aim is to highlight the recent efficiency of the humanitarian response to the Armenian refugee crisis, while I was looking for specific affiliations and deeper motivations of the responders, many of whom appear to have no affiliation with the UNHCR.  


Q: “What is the U.S. doing here on the Armenian border working with Armenian refugees? Isn’t this a job better suited for Russia?” 

A: “Right now, Russia is busy losing the war they started in the Ukraine, and refugees don’t have the luxury of picking sides. They’re just trying to stay alive  and find a safe haven.”

Q: “Could you comment on how the Ukrainian conflict is affecting this crisis, or  the theory that Putin’s ongoing war triggered this attack from Azerbaijan?” 

A: “No.” 

Q: “Then returning back to my previous question: what is the U.S. doing here on  the Armenian-Georgian border?” 

A: “I think the far more interesting question is why do journalists only seem to show up for humanitarian crises and refugees exoduses when they can blame it on one side or the other? You’re reading from a really old sheet of music. That logic is so 1983. I would like to think journalism has moved on since that time.  Why don’t you ask about the refugees involved? It’s their story, not ours.” 

Q: “OK, Armenians are exceedingly unwelcome in Georgia, yet…” 

A: “I’m sure the Armenian Embassy in Tbilisi would refute that claim, and since  most of Armenia’s imports enter through Georgia, I wouldn’t agree with it either.”  

Q: “Ok, but given that Georgia is an ally of the United States with NATO  membership pending and more than 100,000 Armenians have abandoned their  homes to flee Azerbaijanian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, why are you setting up  a camp here, in Georgia?” 

A: “I cannot speak for NATO or the United States in any capacity, to be very clear on that point, but I do see a lot of workers here from the UNHCR, who represent the needs of all refugees as humans, not as proxy-war pawns between the US/UK and Russia/China. Georgia hasn’t had any diplomatic relations with Russia for fifteen years, so maybe Georgians see this as an opportunity to help their neighboring Armenians in a way Russia is currently not able to. I don’t know. You’d have to speak to a Kvemo Kartli official in Rustavi.  They are calling the shots.”

Q: “No one in Rustavi is making any comment at this time. But in fairness, this conflict is the first U.S. involvement in a refugee crisis that didn’t directly involve  Western interests. Doesn’t that seem odd to you?” 

A: “No. If that were true, it would not seem odd at all, but it’s not true. I don’t see any American flags or U.S. troops here. Do you? You have any examples to back  any of this up?” 

Q: “Sure, two years ago Operation Pineapple Express was headed up by the  United States to extract Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban when the U.S.  suddenly pulled out. That is a typical scenario for U.S. involvement. What is  different here?” 

A: “First off, there was nothing typical about OPE, and it was not overseen by the U.S. Government. It was entirely headed by Veterans, and privately funded,  all post-emptively. Thousands of NATO-abandoned Afghan families who had assisted U.S. Coalition Forces were successfully evacuated due to the direct involvement of heroes like Scott Mann, but there were many more who were out of reach due to Taliban control. We could have done so much more with just a  few days advanced notice. Everyone knew the pullout was coming, but it happened much quicker than we expected. Guilt over (non-preemptively)  missing the chance to do more through Operation Pineapple Express changed our SOP and motivated everyone to not repeat those mistakes again.  

Anticipating humanitarian crises before they occur is key to getting the infrastructure in place in advance, and AI tools are now able to optimize the deployment of resources to areas before the refugees begin showing up.  It’s fascinating, and really helpful.” 

Q: “You mean, Artificial Intelligence is now directing resource allocation?”  

A: “I wouldn’t say directing, but AI is definitely pointing us in the right direction earlier than we were able to just a couple years ago during OPE  and the Afghan refugee crisis. Seeing Azerbaijan ramping up with everyone  well aware that Russian forces were already fully engaged in the Ukraine, AI highlighted this region as an immediate priority, well before the military action occurred. This is significant progress. It’s still far from perfect, and  there are inevitable false starts, but being proactive is more effective than  being reactive.” 

Q: “Were there ‘false starts’ on this current crisis?”  

A: “I guess you could qualify it like that, but this work is all about adapting and being flexible. You know Bruce Lee’s line, ‘Be like water’. Knowing something like this may be coming, we spent time in Turkey last month attempting to broker an agreement for pending refugee infrastructure, and we got nowhere. Turkey has been a generous sanctuary for refugees from many regions over this last decade, but their resources have been depleted and they have not always seen eye-to-eye with Armenia. So, this month we took the entire operation to Georgia based on those predictive analytics and we were able to put a small preemptive infrastructure in place before the attack.  

This strategic gaming approach utilizing AI clearly works better than waiting until after something hits. You know, trying to identify areas of concern beforehand and respond urgently as if the pending crisis is already in motion. This might be why the response to Azerbaijan invading Armenia seems uncharacteristic to you from past conflicts. It’s early, preemptive preparation.  

Most of what you see around you here was already being lined up two weeks ago in the potential eventuality that it might be needed. Hopefully, we will be able to continue this practice in future conflicts. There is definitely a learning curve to it all, but it’s a stark contrast to similar crises in the past. So far,  hundreds have died here instead of thousands, or even tens of thousands. That  is a really astounding improvement, and these results give reason to hope.” 

Q: “It is remarkable. Returning to my primary inquiry: is the United States  attempting to work with Armenian refugees in order to undermine their future  relations with the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization?” 

A: “No, absolutely not. Not at all. You’re still pushing this narrative that doesn’t exist. Putin sent down a CSTO monitoring mission who already passed through,  so they are well aware of everything that’s going on here. It didn’t raise any red flags for the Russian CSTO, and they haven’t lifted a finger to help or provide resources, but go ahead and put whatever negative spin you want to on all of it.  Respectfully, I’m done talking with you.” 


After this brief interaction, my press credentials were ignored and I was removed from the camp. Perhaps there are no shadowy Western motives, and what we are witnessing for the first time is really just a more proactive approach from human rights organizations than in past refugee crises.  

If so, it is beyond the scope of the United Nations secretary general, whose spokesperson Stephane Dujarric had no knowledge of anything going on across the border in Georgia, but noted “thousands of people are on the move” and the  UN mission is to “identify and assist the humanitarian needs”.  

That stated UN mission seems to be exactly what is occurring in this small border region of the Lower Kartli Provence of Georgia, whatever government or  NGO is behind it.