MOSCOW, OCT. 26 -- Last February, Wade Roberts was a U.S. Army private in West Germany. Today, classified as a deserter, he is living in a Moscow hotel with his West German girl friend, disillusioned with life in the Soviet Union, and "country-hunting."

Roberts, 22, had expected a "warm welcome" from the Soviets after he fled his U.S. Army post in Giessen to avoid a court-martial following a series of disciplinary problems and disputes with Army authorities, and crossed into East Germany in the trunk of a Volkswagen driven by his friend, Petra Neumann, 24.

But after a welcoming meal at the Soviet Embassy, the couple was sent to Ashkhabad, capital of the bleak desert republic of Turkmenistan -- Roberts speculates this was "out of respect" for his southern California background and an attempt to find something vaguely similar for him here -- and assigned to work as a snake hunter.

Life there -- with food shortages, a barren social life in the rigid Moslem society, an unwanted marriage ceremony they say they were tricked into and a washing machine that exploded -- was a far cry from the happy existence painted by the official news agency Tass.

In one of its periodic reports on the young American "snake hunter" and his "bride," Tass had Roberts describing himself as the "happiest man in the Soviet Union."

"That was a lie," Roberts said here, where he and Neumann moved last month to find a better living situation for them and their baby, whose birth is expected within a few weeks.

Today, Roberts said he has decided not to move to East Germany because officials there said he would be stripped of his U.S. citizenship and sent to a "deprogramming camp," Reuter reported.

"We are now country-hunting," Roberts declared.

{Army spokesman Lt. Col. H. T. Linke said in Washington that Roberts is classified as a deserter and could face desertion charges if he returns to the United States. He added that Roberts, who served in a Lance missile unit, had a job that would have given him a low security clearance, but he would not have had access "to anything pretty important."}

Roberts is the third American to defect to the Soviet Union in the past 18 months. The first was Edward Lee Howard, a former Central Intelligence Agency agent who was interviewed on Soviet television soon after his arrival here in September 1986 but has not been seen publicly since. The second was Arnold Lockshin, a medical technician from Texas who came here a year ago saying he was fleeing harassment. Lockshin has been interviewed by U.S. television and featured in the Soviet press recently.

At this point, Roberts said, he has no regrets. "If I were in the same circumstance, I would do it again," he said.

"I know in some places, like the South, the reaction would be that I am a little communist," Roberts said in an interview here. "But my feeling is yeah, maybe I am a traitor to my country because I defected to the Soviet Union -- but the very people who were supposed to defend the Constitution didn't defend my rights, so in a way they are the traitors. I deserted them, sure, but they deserted me and a lot of other people, too."

Roberts' disenchantment with the U.S. Army began almost from the day he joined in the fall of 1984. He said "fury" sustained him through basic training. When he was assigned to Ft. Carson, Colo., he became involved in what he calls a "paper war" with Army authorities over a variety of issues.

Since he and Neumann came to Moscow from Ashkhabad last month, they have been meeting with American reporters, giving detailed, almost obsessive accounts of Roberts' grievances against the Army and specific officers.

Roberts says that in Colorado he was subjected to an illegal search, accused of stealing equipment, denied the right to a day off on his birthday and charged with being AWOL even though he had told superiors he was going to be absent.

Roberts was trained to string telephone wires, a job that required security clearance to allow him to enter communications centers.

In West Germany, he said, his problems with Army continued. He said he was told to drop his relationship with Neumann. When he injured his back and missed field maneuvers, he said, his quarters were searched, his civilian clothes and Bible were seized and he was confined to the base.

Roberts said he decided to flee the Army base at Giessen on Feb. 28 after being told he was going to be court-martialed.

He hid in a garbage bin, then ran for the barracks gates, scuffling with the guards as he fled, he said. He went to Neumann's apartment and the next morning, after failing to find a Western European country that would grant them asylum, they decided to follow the advice of some Eastern European friends who told them to try Warsaw Pact countries.

"They said the Soviet Union was really pretty and would give an American soldier a warm welcome," Roberts recalled.

The Soviet Embassy in Bonn advised them to go first to East Germany, so they rented a car. East German border guards were incredulous, Neumann said, when, asked if she had anything to declare, she told them she had an American in the trunk.

The two stayed in East Berlin, courtesy of the Soviet Embassy, until April 1 when they heard on American Forces Network Radio that they had been granted asylum in the Soviet Union. They went to Moscow and then were sent to Turkmenistan where, Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadi Gerasimov announced at the time, Roberts intended to pursue his profession as a "snake hunter."

Tass said last April that Roberts had been "catching snakes . . . back in his native California," and that this was why he had chosen to live in Ashkhabad, "a city near the Kara Kum desert, which abounds in snakes."

Actually, Roberts said recently, he was assigned to a six-day-a-week job at a reptile laboratory after telling the Soviets he wanted to work with exotic animals -- and mentioning he had caught snakes as a boy."

Ashkhabad turned out to be a mistake, the couple said. Living in a three-room apartment with bright red furniture chosen by the local Red Crescent Society, the counterpart of the Red Cross, in temperatures that topped 100 , the two westerners got "so bored it was depressing," Neumann said.

While Roberts went off to the laboratory to tend to seven-foot cobras and other snakes, Neumann went "hunting -- that's what we called shopping." Dairy products were rare, she said, and meat and eggs often were rotten. Plans to fix up the apartment were dropped when no materials could be found in the shops. Relations with the neighbors worsened when their washing machine, specially requested, exploded.

With limited Russian, the couple's social life was bleak, bearable only because of an English teacher at the local university and a couple they called Russki Mama and Russki Papa. Otherwise, they kept to themselves, watching Soviet war movies on television and making occasional excursions to nearby tourist sites.

The couple protested against what they said was a trick marriage. Neumann, not yet divorced from her first husband, said they were invited to a ceremony that was described as the registration of their unborn baby. Puzzled by the presence of photographers, they learned that the ceremony was, in fact, a marriage and protested vigorously.

After months of struggling with culture shock, Soviet economic realities and the conservative Moslem society, Roberts said, "the last straw was when they started slaughtering sheep outside our building."

"I think it was the plan of the Soviets to make us real happy," said Neumann, "but something went wrong."