Growing up during the "Cold War" era, Nikolai did what he had to in order to survive the continuing state of political conflict, military tension, and economic competition existing after World War II.

It wasn't unusual for young men to join the military, as a matter of fact it was expected of them. Nikolai was no different, and his career excelled until he was wounded in a battle in Afghanistan, that left him partially blind and deaf on his left side. Military pensions in Russia were a joke at the time, and Nikolai's family had ties in the "Solntsevskaya Bratva", the Russian mafia.

Desperate for money as the former Soviet Union was crumbling, out-of-work but with experience in areas which could prove useful, Nikolai allowed himself to be drawn into a life of crime. Mostly his work involved him 'strong arming' other gangs, they certainly weren't innocent, so he didn't think much of it. Nikolai doesn't delude himself into thinking he's a 'nice man', he's simply not really that bad either.

Widespread emigration in the 1990s allowed Russian criminal organizations to spread themselves further around the world. Prior to the collapse of communism some limited numbers of Russian Jews were allowed to emigrate from the Soviet Union if they could prove they had Jewish descent, and criminals took advantage of this. This is how Ivanov ended up in his new home of America.