The agreement was signed by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin and French Defense Minister Allain Juppe in the presence of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
In all, four warships are to be built, Sechin said.
Russia's input to the construction of the first Mistral-class warship will be 20% and 40% in the second, he said.
The third and fourth ships are to be built in Russia, whose share of labor input will subsequently rise to 80%, he added.
Anatoly Saikin, head of Russia's arms export monopoly Rosoboronexport, said the agreement is only a framework and stipulates neither deadlines, nor the cost of the future contract.
"A contract is still a long way off. Only an intergovernmental general agreement has been signed," he said.
Russia and France in December announced they would jointly build two Mistral-class helicopter carriers at the STX shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, France. Another two are planned to be constructed later at the Admiralty Shipyards in St. Petersburg.
A Russian Defense Ministry source said in December the first Mistral-class ship, with a price tag of 720 million euros, is expected to be built in late 2013-early 2014 and the second in late 2014-early 2015.
A Mistral-class ship is capable of carrying 16 helicopters, four landing vessels, 70 armored vehicles, and 450 personnel.
A number of Russia's neighbors have expressed concern over the upcoming deal, in particular Georgia and Lithuania.