Russian national airline Aeroflot signed a multi-billion dollar deal on Saturday to buy 22 Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft and said it would soon sign a similar deal with Airbus.
Russia has tried to use the deals to play off US Boeing against Europe's Airbus for more than a year as the Kremlin seeks to flex its growing economic clout on the world stage.
"We are very, very pleased that today has arrived," Scott Carson, chief executive of Boeing's commercial plane unit, told reporters after the contract was signed.
"We have been working very hard with Aeroflot for a number of years, helping them identify their requirements," he said.
First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, who oversees Russia's aviation sector, presided over the signing ceremony at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum. He congratulated Carson over a glass of champagne.
Asked whether the revival of the order would affect an earlier tentative deal to buy 22 planes from rival Airbus, Aeroflot CEO Valery Okulov said a firm order would be signed later in the year.
"We will sign a firm order for 22 A350s either at Le Bourget or at MAKS," Okulov said, referring to the Paris air show on June 18-14 and its Russian counterpart on August 21-26. "So it will be in the summer."
Okulov said the Airbuses would enter service between 2014 and 2017. Okulov and Carson refused to comment on the value of the deals. Analysts say the deals are worth about USD$2.5 billion each.
Aeroflot will finance the Boeing order with a syndicated loan guaranteed by the US Export-Import bank, Okulov said. He declined to name the investment banks involved in the syndicate.
As part of the agreement, Boeing will cooperate in helping Russian planemaker Sukhoi develop a mid-range passenger jet.
"This represents a modest step for increasing or improving that involvement," Carson said.
The Aeroflot order has been the subject of intense speculation amid chilly ties with Washington and Moscow's failure to take a major stake in Airbus's parent, EADS.
Russia last year took a 5 percent stake in EADS through state-controlled bank VTB, but wishes to boost the stake were politely rebuffed. France and Germany are the main shareholders in EADS.
Concerns over the Boeing order grew last year, when Washington imposed sanctions on Russian arms firms, including Rosoboronexport, because of sales to Iran and Syria.
Rosoboronexport, headed by a former colleague of President Vladimir Putin, controls VSMPO-Avisma, the world's largest supplier of titanium products to the aerospace industry, including Boeing and Airbus.
Aeroflot's biggest competitor in Russia, S7, formerly Sibir airlines, last week signed a deal for 15 787s with the first deliveries expected by 2014.
Aeroflot is keen to buy as many foreign planes as possible to retire its old Soviet fleet and is seeking to expand in Europe by acquisitions.
Okulov confirmed Aeroflot had bid for Serbian flag carrier JAT Airways. Aeroflot is also in a bidding contest for Italy's Alitalia together with bank Unicredit.