Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev, who ruled the Soviet Union for the past 18 years, was buried with military honors in Red Square today as his successor pledged that the dead leader's "cause will be continued in the deeds of our party and people."

With the sounds of bells, factory and ship sirens and artillery salutes ringing from Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean to Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea, Brezhnev's body was lowered into the ground next to the grave of dictator Joseph Stalin at 12:45 p.m. (4:45 a.m. EST).

Several of his close colleagues wept openly during the final moments of the ceremony behind the Lenin Mausoleum as Brezhnev's wife Viktoria and daughter Galina followed the ancient tradition of Russian Orthodoxy by kissing the dead leader's forehead and lips before the coffin was closed.

Yuri Andropov, who succeeded Brezhnev as Soviet Communist Party leader, led other top officials to the gravesite to throw handfuls of earth into the grave.

Numerous foreign representatives including more than 40 political leaders watched the ceremony in what for Moscow was unseasonably mild and dry weather. Vice President Bush led the American delegation, which included Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Ambassador to Moscow Arthur Hartman.

In his funeral oration, the 68-year-old Andropov struck a more moderate tone in contrast to recent Kremlin pronouncements. Apart from one critical reference to "the forces of imperialism," the new Soviet leader praised Brezhnev as an "outstanding fighter for a secure peace" and said the Kremlin remained ready "for honest, equal and mutually beneficial cooperation" with any country.

"Farewell, dear Leonid Ilyich," Andropov said at the end. "Your cause will be continued in the deeds of our party and people."

Marshal Dmitri Ustinov, the defense minister, also sounded far less belligerent than eight days ago when he addressed the nation from the same spot during celebrations of the 65th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Brezhnev's closest political associate, Politburo member Konstantin Chernenko, did not make an oration. Chernenko, 71, who was Andropov's main rival for the party leadership after Brezhnev died last Wednesday at the age of 75, was also absent from the group of Soviet leaders who greeted foreign dignitatries at a Kremlin reception after the funeral.

Today's lineup atop the Lenin Mausoleum provided no clues as to the relative strength of various personalities in the new leadership other than to make clear Andropov's preeminence.

This was reinforced by the fact that at the reception in the ornate St. George's Hall, Andropov was accompanied only by Premier Nikolai Tikhonov, Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko and figurehead First Vice President Vasily Kuznetsov -- all three without a political base of their own.

After the reception, Andropov plunged into a series of private half-hour meetings with foreign leaders. He saw Bush and Shultz, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, West German President Karl Carstens and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Pakistani President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq and Afghanistan leader Babrak Karmal.

A series of related exchanges in the course of the day created an impression that many leaders visiting here were anxious to exploit the opportunity for direct contacts.

One of the most interesting moves was made by Poland's military ruler, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, who told Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou that he would lift martial law in Poland before Jan. 15. According to sources present at the meeting in the Greek Embassy, Jaruzelski said he would stick to this timetable "no matter what" and he invited Papandreou to Warsaw soon after Jan. 15.

Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau conferred with Tikhonov who also received France's Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy while Gromyko received Japanese Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki.

The diplomatic activity involving 32 heads of state, 15 prime ministers and several foreign ministers -- as well as various dignitaries ranging from four princes to Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat to U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar -- continued well into the night.

The funeral itself was a spectacle not seen here since the death of Stalin in 1953.

Shortly before noon, Brezhnev's body was carried by Army officers out of the House of Unions, where it had been lying in state since Friday, and placed on a gun carriage for the short trip to Red Square. An olive green military scout vehicle towed the carriage with the closed coffin, draped in red and black, in a resplendent procession.

A procession of high ranking officers carrying huge wreaths and bearing Brezhnev's numerous medals on crimson cushions preceded the cortege. The family members and close family friends followed behind, just ahead of the entire leadership.

As the procession passed the cobbled slope along the Historical Museum into Red Square, the official obituary, read over Moscow television, said that detente was Brezhnev's "most important goal of the last decade of his life."

The obituary said the late Soviet leader was "deeply disappointed by the sharp change in" American policy during the past few years but that he nevertheless remained "optimistic" to the end. It hailed the achievements of his rule, including the fact that the country has reached a level of military power never attained before.

The procession halted before Lenin's red marble mausoleum. Andropov and other members of the Politburo acted as pallbearers as the coffin was placed on a bier facing the mausoleum. According to Russian tradition, the coffin was opened and the funeral orators seem to be addressing the dead leader as well as the country.

After the speeches, the open coffin was carried to its final resting place to the strains of Chopin's "Funeral March."

All Communist dignitaries are normally cremated and the urns with their ashes set in the Kremlin Wall. The exceptions are the men who reach the very peak of Kremlin authority -- leaders who die in office or out of office. Lenin's body was embalmed and rests in the mausoleum. Stalin and Brezhnev lie next to one another. By contrast, Nikita Khrushchev, who was ousted in 1964 and replaced by Brezhnev, lies in the cemetery next to the Novodyevichi Monastery among great men of Russia's past, such as Chekhov, Gogol and Prokofiev.

Brezhnev's burial site is located between the memorials to two early Bolsheviks, Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Soviet secret police, and Yakov Sverdlov, the first titular head of state.

As Brezhnev's body was being lowered into the grave, the entire country observed five minutes of silence with the air filled by an eerie hum of sirens and the boom of gun salutes.

According to Russian tradition, Brezhnev's picture was placed on the grave and his numerous decorations and medals placed at its foot, surounded by wreaths and flowers. At this point, Chernenko, Tikhonov, Ustinov and Politburo member and friend Dinmukhamed Kunaev wept while Brezhnev's widow and children seemed overcome by emotion.

As the soldiers filled in the grave, the leadership returned to the mausoleum for a review of troops in honor of the dead leader.