France's government signed an agreement to sell four assault warships to Russia, finalizing a deal that has raised concerns in the United States, Georgia and other countries.
The ships will be able to carry helicopters and armored vehicles, allowing Russia to land hundreds of troops quickly on foreign soil.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has raised concerns that the deal would send the wrong message to U.S. allies in central and eastern Europe. U.S. diplomatic cables leaked by WikiLeaks revealed the depth of tensions the plans provoked between Washington and Paris.
The plan has also alarmed human rights activists and Georgia, which fought a brief war against Russia in 2008, as well as the ex-Soviet Baltic nations in NATO worried about Russia's sway over its neighbors.
"This project is the largest ever realized by Russia and by a Western company in this field," a statement from Sarkozy's office said, adding that the deal will "open up new horizons on cooperation between France and Russia."
The sale is the culmination of months of negotiations in which Russia wanted France to transfer over the technology necessary to build the ships. Russian Prime Minister Vladmir Putin has asserted from the beginning that this would be a good deal for France.