* Government to increase stake from 51 pct to over 75 pct
* Aeroflot planning to give state 25.8 pct Lebedev stake
* Aeroflot will pay Lebedev $400 mln, below market value (Adds confirmation from Lebedev, detail, shares)
MOSCOW, Jan 27 (Reuters) - Russia is planning to tighten its grip on flagship airline Aeroflot (AFLT.MM) by taking control of a 25.8 percent stake owned by tycoon Alexander Lebedev, ridding the carrier of a major independent shareholder.
Aeroflot said on Wednesday it could strike a deal with Lebedev to buy his stake. The tycoon has repeatedly criticised the firm’s management for the lack of cost control measures and insisted on buying and leasing more foreign planes.
Lebedev’s stake could be then used to pay the government for new, as yet unidentified, aviation assets to be merged with Aeroflot -- Russia’s biggest airline, but still a shadow of the mighty firm under the same name during the Soviet times.
The move would increase government ownership of Aeroflot to around 75 percent and might give more incentives to the state to bring aviation assets -- spun off from Aeroflot after the collapse of the Soviet union -- back under its control.
A spokesman for Lebedev, who owns London’s Evening Standard newspaper, said he would sell his stake at a discount price of $400 million, compared to a market value based on Tuesday’s closing share price of $490 million.
Aeroflot shares were up 1 percent to 53.3 roubles at 1138 GMT, valuing the airline at $1.95 billion.
The departure of Lebedev would be the latest move in a shake-up of Russia’s aviation industry.
State-controlled conglomerate Russian Technologies has set up Rosavia, or Russian Airlines, to mop up several regional carriers crippled by the financial crisis.
The new company, yet to launch flights, could become a rival to Aeroflot, although there has also been speculation the two groups could merge. [ID:nLDE60A09I] (Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Writing by John Bowker; Editing by Rupert Winchester)