DATE=5/17/2000 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA REFORM (L ONLY) NUMBER=2-262487 BYLINE=BARRY WOOD DATELINE=WASHINGTON INTERNET=YES CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Russia's generally upbeat economic prospects were analyzed at two Washington conferences Wednesday. V-O-A's Barry Wood reports there is basic agreement that Russia has made significant progress in overcoming its financial crisis of two years ago. TEXT: Anders Aslund, a Russia specialist at the Carnegie Endowment, says Russia could register growth of six-percent this year. He says, in retrospect, the financial crisis and the collapse of the ruble exchange rate in August 1998 was a good thing because it shocked policy makers and made them get serious about budgetary discipline and enterprise restructuring. Speaking at the Economic Strategy Institute, Mr. Aslund expressed confidence that reform will advance at a faster pace under President Vladimir Putin He anticipates quick action on tax and land reform. At another forum - called the Planecon consultancy -- Russia specialist Ben Slay is also upbeat about Russia. He anticipates growth of four-and-a-half percent this year with declining inflation, a steady exchange rate, and growing foreign currency reserves. But Mr. Slay is less optimistic than Mr. Aslund that President Putin represents a break with the corruption that was so pervasive under Boris Yeltsin. Mr. Slay points to Mr. Putin's recent acquiescence to a controversial consolidation of the aluminum industry. /// FIRST SLAY ACT /// This raises the question of really how serious is [Mr.] Putin about reforming the Russian economy. Or are we just going to see business as usual? /// END ACT /// Mr. Slay says both Mr. Putin and Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov agreed to put aside Russia's anti- competition law to permit this corporate merger that was organized by Russia's economic oligarchs. /// SECOND SLAY ACT // Mr. Berezovsky clearly has his hand in this. As does Mr. Abramovich, the head of Sibnaft oil. Anatoly Chubais, the head of U-E-S electricity, and of course electricity is a major input into the production of aluminum. So, as with everything in Russia, it is economics, but it is politics too. /// END ACT /// The aluminum holding company will control about 15 percent of world aluminum output. Researchers at Planecon do not anticipate any significant resumption of lending to Russia this year by the International Monetary Fund. But they say such lending is unimportant now because Russia has growing foreign currency reserves as a result of the sharp rise in oil prices. (Signed) NEB/BDW/gm 17-May-2000 15:14 PM EDT (17-May-2000 1914 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .