Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian President, has criticized Russia over it recent gas price increases, calling them “shameless.” In retaliation, he is threatening to charge Moscow for transiting oil across his country.

“If those in Russia, choking on this influx of petrodollars and other sources of hard currency, are still willing to make a scapegoat of Belarus … then let’s ask the Russian Federation – so huge and so rich – to pay us in full for our services,” state news agency BelTA quoted Lukashenko saying.

The remarks from an agitated Mr Lukashenko came days after his government averted a New Year’s Day cut-off of Russian natural-gas supplies by grudgingly agreeing to pay twice the previous price this year and more in the future.

The gas dispute was part of a struggle over Russia’s moves to end years of preferential treatment that have helped Mr Lukashenko keep his country’s Soviet-style economy running and maintain his grip on power.

Belarus has stopped importing Russian oil as it seeks to persuade Moscow to reconsider a new customs duty on exports to its former Soviet neighbour, saying the additional charge makes oil too expensive and could badly damage the economy.

Yesterday Belarus announced on Wednesday it had imposed a customs duty on Russian crude oil exports across its territory, effective from Jan. 1, 2007, amounting to $45 per tonne.

Russian oil pipeline monopoly Transneft responded on Wednesday that Belarus had no right to impose any new duty on transit of Russian oil across its territory.

“Belarus cannot impose any export or additional transit duty, because the oil belongs to Russia,” Transneft Vice-President Sergei Grigoryev told Reuters. “Therefore, we are not worried.”

However, I bet they might be.