Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev will lead the Kremlin delegation to the funeral of President Tito of Yugoslavia that is expected to be one of the biggest international gatherings in many years.

The announcement that Brezhnev would join dozens of heads of state at Thursday's funeral immediately focused attention on the absence of President Carter. Western diplomats and local observers contrasted Carter's rhetorical support for Yugoslavia's independence with what they saw as Brezhev's convincing demonstration of Moscow's interests in influencing post-Tito Yugoslavis.

U.S. Ambassador Lawrence Eagleburger was reported to have argued strongly in favor of Carter's attendance at the funeral. Instead, the 23-member U.S. delegation led by Vice President Mondale will include Carter's mother Lillian; Treasury Secretary G. William Miller and Averell Harriman.

The first leader to arrive here today was China's Chairman Hua Guofeng, who immediately went ot the parliament building to lay a wreath on Tito's coffin. Other foreign leaders began arriving later in the day, many from the nonaligned movement of which Tito was the last surviving founder.

In Moscow, almost the entire Soviet leadership including Brezhnev, Premier Alexel Kosygin, Politburo members Mikhail Suslov, Andrei Kirilenko, Andrei Gromyko and others went to the Yugoslav Embassy, where they observed a minute's silence before signing a book of condolences.

[In Washington, administration sources said that one of the major reasons in Carter's decision not to go to the funeral was to avoid meeting Brezhnev. They said that the administration was not interested in a summit meeting on grounds that it may send "wrong messages" to the Soviets.]

Nevertheless, on hearing of Brezhnev's plan to attend the funeral, a Yugoslav journalist laughed cynically saying "Once again the Russians have shown that they are close to us and have a vital interest in the Balkans. We have heard a lot of talk from the other side, but so far we have had little proof of American effectiveness."

Few serious analysts believe that Yugoslavia is in any danger of a Soviet invasion in the foreseeable future. But there is concern among Yugoslav officials that the Soviet Union might be preparing the ground for posing as the defender of Tito's socialist achievements."

One foreign policy specialist said, "Perhaps it may seem insignificant to you, but we are following outside reactions to Tito's death very carefully. We are not seeking any American security umbrella, but it does help when the three main players in the game behave in the same manner."

Ordinary Yugoslavs reacted with a mixture of amusement and incredulity to Lillian Carter's inclusion in the delegation. One middle-aged office worker said he meant no disrespect, but "Does this mean that when we want guns, we'll get flowers?" he asked, only half in jest.

Although at least 32 heads of state and 24 prime ministers and 46 foreign ministers will be attending the funeral, it is still not known how much contact they will have with one another. In view of the crowded schedule, bilateral meetings between foreign leaders will probably be of symbolic rather than substantive importance.

Observers recalled that it was after the funeral of Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh in 1969 that Kosygin held a secret meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Chou En-Lia.

More probable is a bilateral summit between the two Germanys. West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt has already indicated he would welcome a chance to talk with East Germany's Erich Honecker -- their first meeting since 1975.

Among many nonaligned leaders at the funeral will be Indira Gandhi of India, Mohammed Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, and Ahmed Sekou Toure of Guinea. They will mingle with European kings and queens, prominent Eurocommunists such as Italy's Enrico Berlinguer, and the Soviet Bloc leaders who will be in Belgrade on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Warsaw Pact.