Karlov was born on February 4, 1954. In 1976, he graduated from the School of International Economic Relations of Moscow State Institute of International Relations.
In 1992, Karlov graduated from the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry. He worked for the ministry since 1976.
In 1976-2008, Karlov held various diplomatic positions in the central apparatus of the ministry and its foreign offices.
In 2001-2006, he served as the Russian ambassador to North Korea.
On January 27, 2009 he was appointed the director of the Consular Department.
On July 12, 2013, Karlov was appointed ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of Russia to Turkey.
Karlov was proficient in English and Korean languages.
The ambassador was married and had a son.