MOSCOW — A U.S. Army private who defected to the Soviet Union has decided to become a professional snake catcher in the Soviet Central Asian republic of Turkmenia, the official Tass news agency said Friday.
The news agency said that Wade E. Roberts, 22, and his pregnant West German wife, Petra, arrived in the Turkmenian capital of Ashkhabad on Friday to begin their new lives in one of the Soviet Union's most remote and underdeveloped republics.
Roberts, of San Bernardino, Calif., has been listed as absent without leave from the U.S. Army in West Germany since March 2. He and his wife--earlier identified by Tass as his girlfriend--surfaced in the Soviet Union on April 2. The Supreme Soviet, the country's nominal Parliament, granted them political asylum.
Roberts has since been quoted by the Soviet media as claiming he fled the Army because "commanders there get sadistic satisfaction from insults, ill-treatment and physical abuse."
There have been hints that Roberts may represent a small scale intelligence coup for the Soviets because he apparently worked in a battalion that had access to a sensitive information.
But Friday, Tass said the private had decided to become a full-time snake catcher--a dangerous job in Turkmenia, which boasts the largest number of poisonous snakes in the Soviet Union.
"Wade and Petra were treated to pomegranates and southern apples and said 'spasibo,' the Russian for 'thank you,' perhaps the only word in Russian that they have learned so far," Tass said, describing their arrival in Ashkhabad.
"Then the conversation drifted on to their future occupation. It turned out that Wade Roberts has a trade that is customary and honorable in Turkmenia, snake catcher.
"He has been catching snakes before his service in the U.S. Army, back in his native California," Tass said. "Incidently, this is why he chose as his residence Ashkhabad, a city near the Kara Kum desert, which abounds in snakes."