This study conceptualizes the internationalization of higher education as a legacy-bound response driven by geopolitical, cultural and economic dependencies. It examines the Russian case, and considers how Russian academics deal with complex sets of dependencies and rivalries, while sorting European, Asian and Soviet drivers in university positioning and partnership-building. The paper re-evaluates the path dependence perspective in the higher education literature by arguing that, notwithstanding the constructs and conveniences they are predisposed to select, academics have a choice to either comply with, or defy the governmental and institutional legacies imposed on them. The prevalence of one choice over the other, as well as an inconsistency of choices, shapes a complicated trajectory that can be referred to as “hybrid” development. This paper illustrates the progression of “hybrid” development by reflecting on the Russian legacy of imperial ambitions affecting the fragility of the global architecture of knowledge, policy development, cooperation and rule of law.