Mr Russell, who stepped down as MSP for Argyll and Bute ahead of the Holyrood election in May, is to head up the development of the party’s independence campaign.
The new “independence taskforce” to kickstart a grassroots campaign and prepare for a second referendum was launched in January.
On his appointment, Ms Sturgeon said: “Delighted that the SNP s National Executive Committee has approved my nomination of Mike Russell as political director of the HQ independence unit.
"He will oversee the development of the party’s independence campaign, as we look ahead to #indyref2 later in this Parliament."
Mr Russell tweeted: "Pleased to take on political direction of the independence work and grateful to Nicola Sturgeon and the NEC.
"Look forward to working with the vast range of enthusiastic talent, within and outwith the party, which is committed to a positive, inclusive – and successful – #indyref2 campaign."
Unveiling the taskforce, deputy leader and campaign director Keith Brown said the unit will “lead on strategy as the party heads towards a referendum in early stages of the next parliamentary term”.
In January, Mr Russell, who also previously held a role as education secretary in the Scottish Government, said he believed that a second independence referendum could be held by Christmas.
He also published an 11-point plan for a second referendum, arguing that the Scottish Government should legislate for another vote if the Prime Minister continues to refuse one, which would almost certainly prompt a legal battle between Holyrood and Westminster.