Cullen will lead a much-changed side, with coach Declan Kidney also handing starts to Donnacha Ryan, Sean Cronin, Tony Buckley, Paddy Wallace, Andrew Trimble, Fergus McFadden, Ronan O'Gara and Isaac Boss.
And Cullen, who played in Ireland's only other clash with Russia in 2002, can't wait to lead out the side.
"Everyone wants to play and most of the lads will be playing regularly at their province, so being a squad player is a difficult role," he said.
"But what's best for the squad is what's best for the team. There has been a really good atmosphere all the way through, even during August when we were losing (in the warm-up matches). Everyone stayed tight.
"Now we're starting to build momentum and we must push on. There's no point Australia being the end of our journey, we've still got a long way to go in this tournament - we hope.
"After the Australia game there was a real buzz in the camp and there's a massive responsibility on us to carry on the momentum that we have.
"We've been training hard over the last few months and we've all been looking for a chance to play.
"For some of us that first chance comes on Sunday. We're champing at the bit to get out there."
Russia have handed a debut to Denis Simplikevich in one of nine changes for the clash with Ireland.
The 20-year-old winger, who impressed at the 2010 and 2011 Junior World Rugby Trophy, is joined in the side by Valery Tsnobiladze, Alexander Khrokin, Sergey Popov, Denis Antonov, Artem Fatakhov, Alexander Yanyushkin and Sergey Trishin in the starting XV.
The inclusion of Simplikevich means Northampton ace Vasily Artemyev switches to full-back.
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Paddy Wallace, 11 Andrew Trimble, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Isaac Boss, 1 Cian Healy, 2 Sean Cronin, 3 Tony Buckley, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 5 Leo Cullen (capt), 6 Donnacha Ryan, 7 Sean O'Brien, 8 Jamie Heaslip. Replacements: 16 Rory Best, 17 Mike Ross, 18 Denis Leamy, 19 Shane Jennings, 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 Jonathan Sexton, 22 Geordan Murphy.
Russia: 15 Vasily Artemyev, 14 Denis Simplikevich, 13 Andrey Kuzin, 12 Sergey Trishin, 11 Vladimir Ostroushko, 10 Konstantin Rachkov, 9 Alexander Yanyushkin (captain), 8 Victor Gresev, 7 Andrey Garbuzov, 6 Artem Fatakhov, 5 Adam Byrnes, 4 Denis Antonov, 3 Alexander Khrokin, 2 Valery Tsnobiladze, 1 Sergey Popov. Replacements: 16 Evgeny Matveev,17 Ivan Prishchepenko, 18 Alexey Travkin, 19 Alexander Voytov, 20 Andrey Bykanov, 21 Mikhail Sidorov, 22 Mikhail Babaev.
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