Nearly a month after Edward Snowden exposed top secret U.S. surveillance programs, the former spy agency contractor looks no closer to winning asylum to evade prosecution at home - and his options appear to be narrowing.
Stuck in legal limbo in a Moscow airport transit area and facing uncertainty over whether any of the destinations he is said to be contemplating - Ecuador, Venezuela and Cuba - will let him in, Snowden seems to be at the mercy of geopolitical forces beyond his control.
Unseen in public since arriving in Moscow last weekend, much remains unclear about Snowden's overtures to various countries and how they have responded behind the scenes.
Russia may no longer have sufficient reason to continue harboring Snowden if, as is widely believed, its intelligence services have already questioned him about the classified documents that he has admitted to taking from the National Security Agency.
The leftist government of Ecuador, already sheltering WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at its London embassy, is reviewing Snowden's asylum request, though officials have sent mixed signals, suggesting the process could drag on for weeks.
Venezuela's new president, Nicolas Maduro, has spoken favorably of granting refuge to Snowden but has taken no action, and he may think twice about risking a setback in tentative steps toward post-Chavez rapprochement with Washington.
And even if Ecuador or Venezuela decide to take Snowden, there is no guarantee that communist Cuba, the likely transit point for any flight from Moscow to those South American countries, would let him pass through and further complicate its own thorny relations with the United States.
Adding to Snowden's troubles, the Obama administration, embarrassed by his disclosures on U.S. surveillance programs and his ability to dodge extradition when he fled Hong Kong last Sunday, is bringing heavy pressure to bear on any country that might consider accepting him, diplomats say.
(Read More: How Long Can Snowden Stay at the Moscow Airport)
"Thus far, he has chosen his destinations carefully," said Carl Meacham, a foreign policy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "His time, even in those countries, however, may be running out."
Another potential complication is the role of anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, whose alliance with Snowden further politicizes his case. British legal researcher Sarah Harrison, a top WikiLeaks lieutenant and Assange confidante, escorted Snowden on the flight from Hong Kong to Moscow and is believed to have remained with him.
Focus on Russia
Russia remains the chief focus of the diplomatic scramble, and while President Vladimir Putin has clearly delighted in the chance to tweak Washington, there are questions whether he wants a prolonged saga that threatens deeper damage to already-chilly U.S.-Russia relations.